At the Frontlines: An Insight Into A Chaotic Year in the Laboratory for Dr Brendan Pang

By Azzahra Osman (22S03P) and Ting Kaily (22S03P)

The Covid-19 pandemic has been raging across the world for the past year. With new waves of the pandemic hitting many parts of the world hard, including our nation, which has recently been placed on a heightened alert (a.k.a CB 2.0 to many), many job scopes have since been thrust to the forefront. As we learn more about jobs at the frontlines, apart from doctors and nurses, we will be exploring how a pathologist’s life has been impacted by this devastating outbreak. 

Dr Brendan Pang, an RJC alumnus from the class of 1995, is an anatomic and molecular pathologist responsible for leading a team of staff in Parkway Laboratory Services and Angsana Molecular and Diagnostic Laboratory. These are companies involved in the molecular testing of blood and tissue samples from patients for diagnostic applications. 

Dr Brendan Pang giving a speech.

Within a few months, his lab had already made several astounding breakthroughs in the realm of COVID-19 testing. Initially, Dr Pang and his staff had to perform semi-manual ribonucleic acid (RNA) extraction, followed by Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) for detection of coronavirus infections. According to him, this was “very tiring and demoralising for the lab staff, especially with the massive test loads that came with dormitory testing”. 

However, his company later on became the first lab in Singapore to deploy the Rapid Automated Volume Enhancer (RAVE) system made by A*STAR in October 2020. This new system can test up to four times the number of COVID-19 samples a day, significantly improving the efficiency of COVID-19 testing.

With that being said, his journey in the lab throughout the pandemic was nothing short of challenging. Dr Pang mentioned that the diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients (his area of professional interest) throughout this time period was delayed due to the cross-deployment of medical resources in battling COVID-19. 

Rapid Automated Volume Enhancer (RAVE) taken from A*Star website.

During and after the circuit breaker period, he was also unable to meet in-person with his colleagues and collaborators due to inter-institutional staff segregation policies. In light of this, the molecular tumour board meetings had to be held virtually last year, which left Dr Pang with no choice but to master the skill of online communication via Zoom. 

Aside from the hardships faced within his job, such as increased work hours as a result of being on the frontlines, Dr Pang also had to adapt to the changes in his personal life brought about by the pandemic. Longer work hours at the frontlines meant that he had less time to spend with family, and less time for self-care activities, such as exercise. He also cites not being able to meet up for big gatherings such as alumni events like Raffles Winds – A tempo! in person as one of the downsides of this pandemic. Fortunately, despite the many changes, he has still managed to spend time with his family during Chinese New Year this year.

He acknowledges that his job can be fulfilling, including times where he is able to assist oncologists in giving the right drug to the right patient at the right time. One of the most rewarding instances that he fondly remembers is when he managed to save the life of a seemingly “hopeless” Stage 4 cancer patient by administering a designer drug to the patient and striking the genetic lottery. 

The sense of satisfaction that he had derived from that experience is sure to be one he would remember for years to come. It would also serve as a good form of encouragement for him to push on in his work even when the going gets tough. 

Besides that, Dr Pang also greatly enjoys acquainting himself with fellow colleagues from around the world to discuss complicated cases, as well as to simply exchange knowledge with them. As the saying goes, “Knowledge shared is knowledge squared”, and we believe that this has certainly rung true in Dr Pang’s case. 

When asked about whether he had anything to say to the school population, Dr Pang had several valuable pieces of advice: “Think critically and philosophically, find the unanswered questions…learn from the best in the field if you ever have the opportunity. Go anywhere if you have to!” He also encourages us to have tremendous fun studying and working hard, to read widely and deeply with a vengeance not just for the grades, and to always ask when in doubt. Just like any proud Rafflesian, he says, “Work hard and play harder, and Auspicium Melioris Aevi!”

 

“The jobs of the future do not exist now, pick a role model and also be prepared to walk your own path.”

Dr Brendan Pang

At the end of the interview, he left us with a thought-provoking quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself, so live the life you imagined.” While frontliners like Dr Pang definitely did not imagine their lives to be upended by the pandemic, they nonetheless enjoy the work that they do and serving the country in times of crisis. For that, we thank and salute all the frontliners who have been toiling away in the face of the pandemic! 

This article was re-published with edits made.

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