He embarked on this journey almost two decades ago as a cardiologist, hoping to help people in need. Today, Dr Julian Tan shares with us his inspirations and other matters of the heart.
As a child, Dr Tan followed his paediatrician father into the hospitals late into the night, and was inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps. One of his favourite hobbies then was catching up on medical documentaries on television and getting drawn into the world of cardiology.
Fast forward to 2019, he is now a well-known interventional cardiologist, and the medical director of two clinics: Julian Tan Heart Specialist Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Hospital and The Cardiology Practice at Farrer Park Hospital.
“I think this altruistic side spoke to me since time immemorial. A doctor is the noblest of all professions, so no regrets.” says Dr Julian Tan.
The spark that his father ignited in Dr Tan has kept him going for more than 30 years. However, instead of paediatrics, he chose to venture into the field of cardiology.
He explains, “Without the heart, everything else will fail, because it provides nutrients to the other organs. Understanding the intricacies of this complex organ is something that appeals to me.”
Besides being awarded the Ministry of Health’s Healthcare Manpower Development Plan (HMDP) scholarship, Dr Tan was also involved in several landmark international clinical trials, whilst at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. He also holds visiting consultant posts at the National University Hospital, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Embracing New Frontiers
Dr Tan likens the practice of interventional cardiology to being a plumber of the heart. “I am essentially a plumber. I basically unclog water pipes, which are the arteries of the heart. When they call me, I will go and unchoke the arteries in a minimally invasive way.”
“Coronary artery disease is very common, and getting more so as sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets become more widespread in our society,” he adds.
With the advancements in modern technology over the past decade, many heart specialists, including Dr Tan, have turned to minimally-invasive techniques such as coronary angioplasty. A popular stenting procedure, coronary angioplasty involves inserting thin catheter tubes (stents) through the wrist or leg and inflating a tiny balloon inside the clogged arteries, to force the plaque to the sides and open up the arteries.
Dr Tan is excited about new progress in coronary angioplasty. When absorbable stents (stents that gradually dissolve into the bloodstream while leaving the arteries open) first entered the market, he was part of the medical team conducting the first trials in Singapore.
He reveals, “We were the first few interventional cardiologists to try it, put it through trials, and shared the results with the international community.”
Fewer complications, a shorter recovery time and greater comfort. These are a few of the reasons why Dr Tan is such a believer of coronary angioplasty. But the experienced doctor does not forget to remind us that “a stent is only a stopgap measure” for coronary artery problems.
“If you continue to be naughty, not take your medicine and not watch your risk factors, you can develop new plaque within the old stent. Then you will be back to square one!”
Following the Heart
In person, Dr Julian Tan is a bundle of energy. From his exuberance and youthful appearance, it is nearly impossible to tell that he is a father of three children, aged 16, 14 and 9.
Outside of work, he is happiest when he’s driving his fast cars and performing pantomimes. Of these, it is usually his 30-year-long love affair with the age-old art of pantomime that takes many people by surprise.
“You convey emotions and themes just by your actions and facial expressions. One facial expression can convey a specific theme about God. I think it speaks volumes, and it is a privilege,” says Dr Tan, a member of Wesley Methodist Church.
Dr Tan used to be active in his church productions at Easter and Christmas, and even helped to found the church’s mime group, Wesley Players. Life would have turned out quite differently for him, had his mother not dissuaded him from pursuing mime as a career.
15 years ago, after the birth of his children, Dr Tan took a step back from church mime performances. Is he itching to mime again now?
He enthuses, “Now that my kids are a little older, I foresee myself getting more involved again!”