by Chow Ee-Tan
A young, accomplished ophthalmologist from Singapore who demonstrated care and service to an exemplary degree was the recipient of the 2019 Artemis Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Dr. Marcus Ang, consultant ophthalmologist at Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) specializing in cornea and refractive surgery, was recognized for his pioneering years of work in providing free vision care for people across Asia, particularly the elderly in Singapore.
Driven by his goal to develop innovative and sustainable eye solutions, Dr. Ang has dedicated much of his time to caring for others in- and outside of his clinic at SNEC. The young doctor is a force behind the non-profit organization Global Clinic Ltd., which ventures beyond local borders to provide free eye care and surgery in developing countries around Asia.
Dr. Ang also founded and leads the Mobile Eye Clinic (MEC) Project, which aims to bring free eye care to the elderly who lack mobility in underprivileged communities in Singapore.
Beyond Caring & Service
When contacted by CAKE, the busy doctor, who is also associate professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Duke-National University of Singapore, expressed his gratitude for the recognition, saying he was, indeed, very honored to receive the award.
“This prestigious award has been conferred to many ophthalmologists in the past who have done amazing work in their field,” he shared. “So, I’m very lucky to be recognized amongst some of the greats. To me, personally, it is a recognition of my contributions to the field of ophthalmology, outside of academic and clinical work. Thus, it is a great honor,” said Dr. Ang.
He added that career-wise, it’s validation of the importance of global ophthalmology and community work in the field of ophthalmology, which he believes will support his current programs and help them progress to greater heights.
The Artemis Awards
The Artemis Award was created to acknowledge the contributions of individual ophthalmologists above and beyond what is required or expected. Since 2014, the Academy has annually honored young ophthalmologists with the Artemis Award in recognition of their tremendous work to help disadvantaged communities obtain vision care.
The award is named after the Greek goddess Artemis, who was the protector and nurturer of the vulnerable and suffering.
The selection criteria are tight. The Academy’s Senior Ophthalmologist Committee considers nominations that meet the qualifications and selects the winner based on several criteria, such as nature of the service, the sustainability of service, the length and consistency of service, and the scope of impact.
In the Service of Community & Ophthalmology
According to Dr. Ang, both the Global Clinic and the MEC Project were born out of very different circumstances, but with the same goal: To provide eye care in communities where access is difficult, both in his home country and beyond.
Going beyond his role as director of vision projects at the Singaporean non-profit organization, Global Clinic, Dr. Ang has undertaken voluntary ophthalmology work in the community, leading volunteer missions all over Asia. He regularly organizes missions and travels to countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, India and Myanmar to provide free cataract surgery.
This had helped needy beneficiaries overseas who cannot get medical care due to poverty or inaccessibility.
On his mission to Myanmar in 2017 with Global Clinic, Dr. Ang and his team of 20 medical professionals helped almost 3,000 patients and completed more than 270 operations in five days.
In his home country, Dr. Ang also initiated the MEC Project in 2013 under the auspices of the Singapore Society of Ophthalmology, to provide free eye care to the elderly in underprivileged communities in Singapore.
“We provide primary eye care with optical corrections, such as spectacles if required, as well as accurate diagnosis of conditions in the community so that the beneficiaries don’t have to travel to tertiary hospitals for treatments,” explained Dr. Ang.
When he first started the program, Dr. Ang and his small team went door-to-door, surveying and examining the elderly using portable eye equipment.
“Today, we have evolved into a MEC bus that has a more comprehensive clinic, providing access to eye care right at the doorsteps of our beneficiaries,” he shared.
Surveys had shown that of the elderly patients who went for a regular eye screening, only 25 to 30% sought further treatment as advised. The MEC program managed to raise this follow-up rate to almost 70%.
Indeed, the program has grown significantly. Since its inception, more than 5,000 people have benefited from Dr. Ang’s MEC program. The underprivileged elderly are receiving their regular free eye care, and the program enabled some patients with reversible conditions such as cataracts to receive timely surgery or other basic procedures such as laser treatment.
Achievements that Matter
Dr. Ang’s volunteer efforts have not gone unnoticed in the past. He was the recipient of awards such as the Healthcare Humanity Award in 2012 and the Young Eye Care Ambassador Award in 2013. In 2017, Singapore President Halimah Yacob honored Dr. Ang with the country’s Volunteer and Philanthropy Award – the highest recognition for volunteer work in the nation.
Still only in his late 30s, the list of achievements and accolades under Dr. Ang’s belt is impressive to say the least. But among all his international and local awards, what means the most to him are the ‘patient appreciation awards’, which are awarded every year by patients to recognize the doctors for their service and clinical care.
“I have achieved this several years in a row now, and I’m glad that my patients appreciate my clinical care on a daily basis,” shared Dr. Ang.
In the future, he wants to continue to reach out to more elderly patients with eye disease in certain communities. He disclosed that there are bigger plans for 2020, with the Mobile Eye Clinic programs launching in Myanmar and other regional countries.
However, Dr. Ang admits there are plenty of challenges in his charity works.
“Perhaps one aspect that people don’t see is that with each mobile eye clinic (which is the ‘face’ of the program), is a project that requires a lot of coordination behind the scenes to make sure that patients receive the care and follow-up that they need. Thus, sustainability in this program is a big effort that requires a lot of commitment,” he said.
His passion for humanitarian work has led him to teach young doctors, nurses, optometrists, ophthalmic technicians and medical students who are engaged in building sustainable programs, including education and patient care in developing countries throughout Asia.
“What gives me the most satisfaction is interacting with beneficiaries and volunteers, and seeing everyone coming together for a common cause,” he concluded.