Ruth Kam Heart & Arrhythmia Clinic
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It’s a philosophy she tries to imbue onto her patients “In fact, that’s the hardest part of the treatment: talking to them and telling them to change their lifestyle.” As always she believes that there’s no shortcut to maintaining good health, adding, “It’s not so much about prescribing a pill or undergoing a procedure. It takes a lot of time and investment to convince people that they need to change.”
She’s very concerned about the increased risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases in Singapore. It mostly boils down to an unhealthy diet and the constant stress in our highly urbanized and sophisticated society..
Her biggest weakness is the indulgence of chocolate. Dark chocolate to be exact and she only allows herself a small portion of two to three squares each time. To her, it’s already a guilty pleasure. She’s a woman with a strong sense of discipline and this has carried along with her through most of her life and contributed much to her achievements.
In 1981, she was awarded the prestigious President Scholarship. “I have a photograph of the President Scholarship Presentation Ceremony and that was one of my proudest moments,” she reminisced. Although it came initially as a pleasant surprise, Dr. Kam admits that it was due to her consistent and good academic records. She also aced the many psychological assessments that were meted out on the candidates to determine whether they possessed the desired characteristics and attributes of being a good scholar.
It was also in 1981 that Dr. Kam started her medical school at the National University of Singapore. After obtaining her specialist training in cardiology at the Singapore General Hospital from 1991 to 1994, Dr. Kam won yet another scholarship from the Ministry of Health of Singapore to train at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA.
It was a stint that uprooted her family and brought them to the United States. Dr. Kam was already married and her eldest daughter accompanying her was turning two years old then. Her mother-in-law went along too in view of the high costs of childcare and also to help her cope with the grueling long working hours that sometimes extended to the weekends.”Fortunately I managed to synchronize my post-graduate training with my surgeon husband at the same time and we went over as a family.”
In Boston, Dr. Kam concentrated towards the study of Electrophysiology and implanting devices. She explained, “No one had actually done that before, spending a whole year on implanting devices. So I guess in a way it was bringing the specialty to a different level.” Dr. Kam contributed immensely to the development of Electrophysiology in Singapore, which is something that she considers as one of her greatest achievements in life.
Today, she is well known in the field of cardiology amongst the women doctors.
There’s no wonder why she’s passionate about the subject. Cardiology has fueled her love for medicine. Dr. Kam was drawn to the slew of exciting new developments and technologies when she first started in the 1990s. To her, cardiology was at the forefront of internal medicine. “There was major development during that time which was very interesting,” she explained and going on to add that, “And there were a lot of things you could do in cardiology in terms of interventions.”
It wasn’t always an easy road to take. As a woman in a male-dominated field, she had to battle the odds. Dr. Kam is happy with the change in recent years where the local medical school no longer limits the maximum number of female medical students it can admit each year. She said, “In my time, it was 20 percent of the total cohort. For all girls who wanted to do medicine, there were medical interviews where they would be asked questions like: What are you going to do when you graduate? Are you going to get married, have children and become a housewife?”
Medicine, as tough as it was a discipline to get in, posed a challenge for Dr. Kam. Even cardiology was considered a male dominated field. She explained, “Most women would rather opt for non-emergency disciplines like dermatology, psychology and other fields.” Going against the grain, Dr. Kam even braved the health elements. Even though there was a certain degree of protection, the exposure to radiation posed a danger to female fertility. She added, “You can never be 100 percent sure. So people who trained in cardiology during that time, if they got pregnant, would have to delay certain parts of their training until after they’ve given birth. It was tough.”
As a working professional, she considers getting married and having children as one of her biggest challenges. Juggling a hectic work life, finding a balance between her career and family life was always uphill challenging task.
Even though her career was always on her mind, she was a family woman at heart. Dr. Kam got married at the beginning of her cardiology training. Medicine was a long course and she was determined to start a family while she still could. She explained, “By the time you finish medicine, you’re 23 years old. For us who become specialists, that’s another five years. And for women, the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to have children.”
Now, she is the proud mother of three wonderful children – two daughters and a son, all in their teens. She is determined to provide the best for her offspring but has no intentions of pushing them beyond their wishes. She is a firm believer that they should be able to choose what they want to do with their lives. She said. “I don’t want to force my aspirations on them because if they’re unhappy, they will blame me for the rest of their lives.”
Her eldest daughter, age 19, is currently in her first year of dentistry. Her son who’s only in Secondary Two has voiced his goals to one day follow his parents’ footsteps. And her youngest daughter who’s only 12 years old has a strong artistic flair.
Hoping to lead by example, Dr. Kam wants her children to find something that they’re happy doing. She quipped in a cheery tone, “It’s just like I’m happy with what I’m doing. I feel like I’m doing something meaningful.” To Dr. Kam, it’s important to enjoy herself and pursue her interests. Something she does very well. It was one of the main reasons why she moved into private practice. “Private practice allowed me more time and freedom to develop my other interests,” she said. It’s a freedom she relishes. “I think I have a good life,” she added.
When she’s not busy working out at the gym or hustling at work, Dr. Kam keeps herself contented spending time with her family on weekends. The family bonds over cooking and sharing meals over weekend dinners. “I like to cook,and so does my husband and we are partners in the kitchen” she mused. . She added, “He does certain things and I do other things. I like to do the salad, the baking and the soups. He likes to mess around with the barbecue.”
“I like to prepare my own food because I know exactly what goes into it,” she said. She always makes it a point to make sure that there’s not too much salt or fat in her cooking. She finds joy in keeping everyone’s eating habits healthy.
Perhaps it was her strict upbringing that enabled her to be disciplined. As the eldest child, she prides herself in taking care of herself. She lamented, “We had to do a lot of things ourselves, unlike kids nowadays, where they actually depend on the maids to do everything.”
As a child, she was the typical good girl, the model student and the teacher’s favourite. “My university days were the most memorable,” she said. It was a period of time where she had interactions with all kinds of people. It’s like being exposed to the whole wide world.” It’s the kind of interaction she continues into her working life. Meeting people from all walks of life has always given her pleasure. She explained, “I try to make friends with everybody, no matter how different they are.”
“I don’t believe in writing resolutions because they are likely to be broken. If I want to do something, I just go ahead and do it.” Ageing gracefully is her number one goal. She also hopes to travel more. In particular, she would like to take a trip to Europe and explore its cultures and sites.
For a woman with such tenacity and zest for life, it’s hard to imagine who and what inspires her. When THIS Quarterly posed her the question of which person, alive or dead, that she would meet, Dr. Kam pondered for two minutes and named the late Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew as someone she really admires. She said, “She was a strong woman. She was very intelligent and kind. She inspired the rest of her family: her children, her grandchildren and even the people who worked for her.”
“We should all have a positive outlook. If you think you’re old, you’ll be old. We should all have a hearty outlook in life; advises the cardiologist.
DR RUTH KAM
Cardiologist

MBBS (Singapore)
MRCP (Int Med) (UK)
M Med (Int Med) (Singapore),
FAMS (Cardiology), FRCP (Edin)
Ruth Kam Heart and Arrhythmia Clinic
3 Mount Elizabeth #08-06
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
Tel: 6333 6866
www.arrhythmia.com.sg