Citation for Monteiro Award, 2018
I was honoured to provide a citation for Prof Koh Tse Hsien, a.k.a. the microbiology blogger, yesterday. He is the fourth person invited to deliver the Monteiro lecture, which was established in 2012 by the Chapter of Infectious Diseases Physicians, College of Physicians, Academy of Medicine and the Society of Infectious Diseases (Singapore). The citation is reproduced below.
It is my great honour and pleasure to provide a citation for Prof Koh Tse Hsien prior to his award and lecture.
Tse Hsien is Senior Consultant and Founding Head of the Department of Microbiology at the Singapore General Hospital. A medical microbiologist by training, he graduated from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1991, and became both a member of the Royal College of Pathologists (UK) and fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia in 2000. In 2008, he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists (UK) and passed the American Board of Medical Microbiology exam. Along the way, he also picked up a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the London School, a Doctorate in Philosophy from NUS, and a Doctorate in Medicine from Aberdeen.
A true stamp collector, as you can see.
Tse Hsien also has diverse interests outside Medicine. He is an avid collector of Airfix Second World War planes, an excellent amateur photographer, particularly of wine bottles and birds – often scoffing at my own efforts, plays chess decently, and has regular games of squash, tennis and badminton. Every now and then, he goes kayaking or trekking. He is also devoted to his family, always putting his wonderful wife and 3 fine children ahead of his work.
It is said that those who have lived in the shadow of death often live the most.
I sometimes think he would have achieved far more in microbiology and infectious diseases, or played better chess, if he had been more focussed. But then, he would also have become a lesser human being.
I first met Tse Hsien in 2001, when I bargained with my then mentor Dr Tan Ban Hock to spend 3 months in the the Microbiology laboratory instead of wasting those months of my life – and Ban Hock’s – seeing ID referrals as a service registrar.
He was as you see him now, just less grey. He assigned me to a project looking for enzymes in E. coli that could counteract beta-lactamase inhibitors, and I must confess I was initially not particularly impressed with a supervisor that explained things once tersely, and then left me on my own to figure out how stuff worked. That project failed to unearth anything novel. Years later, in a curious twist of fate, I became Tse Hsien’s PhD supervisor and took enormous pleasure in providing no supervision whatsoever. But he still passed.
Since 2001, we have worked together on multiple projects both serious and whimsical, publishing 50 papers together. There is no better mentor, supervisee, or collaborator once you get past that gruff and seemingly apathetic exterior that I like to think allows someone like him to survive our public healthcare system. Generous with his ideas, resources and time, Tse Hsien is a true gentleman both at work and socially. He is genuinely interested in getting the work done or testing out his hypotheses, not quibbling with unimportant matters such as amount of credit or authorship position, and treats everyone regardless of position equally well.
His body of work – a small part of which he will present tonight – is worthy of a full time research professor of microbiology and speaks for itself. More importantly, it is pertinent for helping us understand the complex landscape and evolution of bacteria that share our hospitals with us.
Prior to tonight’s event, I asked him what was his best or most satisfying research paper, and he provided 3. I share these with you because it reflects what I feel to be an admirable view of one’s research work. He felt his most significant contribution occurred during the 2015 Group B streptococcus outbreak in Singapore, although his role in the actual publications was minor. His best paper scientifically was published in 2004, where he had discovered a novel metallo-beta-lactamase vim-6, a story that he will share with you further tonight. And his most satisfying paper, which is coincidentally also my most satisfying paper, is a letter to the Singapore Medical Journal highlighting the Ministry of Health’s underestimation of the prevalence of invasive pneumococcal disease.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tse Hsien well deserves the Monteiro award, and that you will enjoy the lecture that is to come.