Dr Claudine Pang is driven by real human connection. “I’ve always had a desire to help people solve problems. If I wasn’t in medicine, I’d probably be doing social work,” says Dr Pang, who has actively volunteered since young, helping at children’s and nursing homes.

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“Making a real difference in people’s lives” is why she founded Eye Care Without Borders, a mobile eye clinic that brings free eye care, spectacles and eye drops to underprivileged communities in Singapore and rural Cambodia and Nepal. The non-profit ramped up local efforts after Covid closed its borders, providing free eye screening and spectacles and supporting Food Bank and Beyond Social Services to provide essential food and groceries to families in need. Earlier this year, as part of Project Eye Care Schoolbag, it helped to distribute 1,000 school bags containing comic books, jigsaw puzzles and masks to help children from low- income families learn good eye care habits.

Dr Pang has also just published Eye Care For All, a richly illustrated, easy-to-read book that covers common mild to serious eye-related conditions. “This book challenges the public’s misconception that if you can see, your eyes are healthy. Many eye conditions remain hidden until it’s too late.”

When the ophthalmologist first saw inside a retina (“it looked like a beautiful piece of art”), she knew she had found her calling. However, she quickly realised that her brief interactions with patients gave little opportunity to build genuine relationships.

“It was always a rush when I was working in the public sector. We would see perhaps 100 patients in a day. Our goal was to be efficient and to make sure we missed nothing, but I didn’t feel truly satisfied because I could never devote the time I wanted to each patient.”

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Private practice is where Dr Pang’s unique blend of empathy and problem-solving abilities shine. Here, conversations with patients are never just about the medical issue at hand, she says. It often has to do with some other baggage they’re carrying.

“It can be work or family-related stress, like caring for elderly parents at home,” says Dr Pang, who says anxiety can translate into physical problems like eye strain or migraines. “Sometimes, giving patients the time and space to vent helps them become more aware of the root causes of their physical problems. Just prescribing medication without this doesn’t help solve the real concern.”

Dr Pang has also experienced the mind-body connection in children who blink exaggeratedly and with force. “First, I check to see if there are any medical issues with their eyes. Next, I consider the social aspects of their lives. I will ask them if there have been any recent, sudden changes, like being bullied, moving house or stress about schoolwork. By identifying these triggers and sharing them with parents, these psychosomatic behaviours can often be resolved.”

Dr Pang’s love of her work shines through repeatedly. “Ophthalmology offers instant gratification. Some surgeries and medications may take months before you see any results. Surgical procedures like cataract surgery, however, can yield quick results. It is both fulfilling and immediate.”

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