Some questions on Dr Patrick Tan’s NS stint
By now, most people have already heard about Dr Patrick Tan’s NS stint which recently raised eyebrows all over cyberspace given that he served in a special capacity. So let me add on to that. Some of what will be discussed here has already been raised in an email sent to Mohd Nizam who would be meeting Dr Patrick Tan on Friday. Here’s some background and intro to who Mohd Nizam is. I didn’t expect Mr Nizam to publicise the email, which he did after informing me and somehow it ended up on TR with the contributor identified as Curious here.
Here are some preliminary background information on which this post is based. Dr Patrick Tan’s CV is found here and his press release is archived here. I’m not including the press statement by Dr Tony Tan himself because he says nothing apart from that he’s “deeply disappointed” with rumours.
Warning: This will be a long post. It’s hard to keep it short when there are so many questions.
Let’s begin with the original reply by Dr Tony Tan’s office which started it all.
On medical school choice
Dr Tony Tan’s office, in his original reply says that Patrick Tan’s disruption is no different from other medical students who also got to disrupt. But of course this is a highly misleading reply. Firstly, in the 1980s not everyone got to disrupt even if they made it to study medicine. MINDEF had tightened the disruption policy two years earlier, in 1986 as shown here. Pursuant to this, it should be noted that MINDEF does indeed selectively disrupt NSFs (after serving for 6 months only) to study medicine abroad prior to 1991 when policy finally changed. So Dr Patrick Tan belonged to a highly exclusive group of Singaporeans who were selectively allowed to disrupt for overseas medical studies. Dr Patrick Tan seems to be aware of this exclusivity given that he says he had to make his case to MINDEF:
I made my case to the Ministry of Defence and was granted permission to pursue this course of study.
However, Dr Patrick Tan did not appear to have studied in a medical school which was recognised by the Singapore Government then. As pointed out by an SBF forumer (Doctor Evil) here, Dr Patrick Tan studied in Stanford medical school. Stanford was formally recognised as an approved overseas medical training college only in 2003, after Dr Patrick Tan had left service. Why was Dr Patrick Tan allowed to take up medical studies as a student in a yet un-recognised school when his disruption was granted on grounds that he would be studying medicine abroad? The fact that Stanford remained unrecognised until Dr Patrick Tan left service effectively meant he could not undergo the Medical Officer Cadet Course (MOCC) to become a medical officer (MO) when he returned from Stanford in 2000 to do his NS. However since Stanford was recognised in 2003, it’s entirely possible for him to undergo MOCC for his reservist in-camp training (ICT). In fact some medical student graduates I know who did not get to disrupt to study medicine in NUS, but only finished medical school after NS had to go for MOCC so they could serve their reservist as an MO. Yet there’s no indication in Dr Patrick Tan’s reply that he had actually done so, since he remained as a 3rd Sargeant and never got promoted to Captain for his NS ICTs. Why is this so?
Update: I’ve struck out the above because a commenter, Criticalist, pointed out that Dr Patrick Tan’s alma mater where he got his MD qualifications has long been recognised (since 1971) as a approved overseas medical training school. The question now becomes: Why didn’t Dr Patrick Tan do his MOCC when he returned from Stanford to finish his national service? Why was he allowed to remain a non-MO? How is Dr Patrick Tan able to choose the medical research path before he completes his NS and not be forced into compulsory clinical practice for the duration of his NS like every other doctors? Anyone here would like to clarify this?
On the NS disruption and scholarships
Some people argued that disruption is usually granted for outstanding individuals, even if it means a 12-year stint for overseas Bachelors and MD-PhD. I’m well aware that medical schools in the US are graduate schools who take in graduates only, so a basic degree is necessary before admission, and that Dr Patrick Tan’s 8-year term spent doing his MD PhD is not unusual since it’s the norm. Those shouldn’t be issues. This was something I myself was mistaken on until others had clarified.
The question that should be asked was when exactly the disruption was granted. As explained in two previous posts, an ST article from 20th Aug 1988 here clearly states that Dr Patrick Tan could not make it for the photo-op where the four other President Scholars gathered the previous day. He was already in Harvard when that happened. So the crucial question to ask is this: When exactly was the young Patrick Tan awarded the President Scholarship? Was he disrupted before he was notified on the President Scholarship? Did his application for disruption take his President Scholarship award into account? Or was it based solely on the other scholarship (Loke Cheng Kim)? When was Patrick Tan awarded the Loke Cheng Kim scholarship?
Furthermore while many commenters elsewhere have said they knew individuals who were allowed to disrupt NS to do their Masters or PhD. But it seems progressively harder to disrupt when you are aiming higher up (harder for PhD than for BSc/BA) and treatment was not granted uniformly. For example, some people say they know of PSC scholars who did PhD after they disrupted NS successfully to do their Bachelors. But unlike all PSC scholars, Dr Patrick Tan was not bonded and hence was not a PSC scholar. It seems that PSC scholars who disrupted were bonded since almost all (if not all) PSC scholarships are bonded. By contrast, the Loke Cheng Kim scholarship is one of the very few scholarships which carry no bond at all:
The Foundation’s Scholarship is one of the few in Singapore which carry no bonding requirement.
So if it’s not accurate to say that he disrupted to study medicine overseas since he didn’t attend a recognised medical institution, it must be due entirely to his exceptional achievements, since one can’t use the fact that such scholars are bonded because Dr Patrick himself was not bonded by any of his scholarships, including President’s Scholar.
Other less fortunate exceptional individuals
However, it seems the policy for exceptional individuals have not been applied uniformly. Consider this other exceptional individual who wrote in to ST Forum in 2001, someone who represented Singapore at age 17 for the International Maths Olympiad. While he was granted an NS deferment for his bachelors at Carnegie Mellon, he was made to agree in writing that no further deferment would be granted for PhD at MIT. The result? This outstanding individual gave up his Singapore PR and took up American citizenship so he could do his PhD at MIT. The only difference between Dr Patrick Tan and himself is that there’s no indication he was a scholar. Why wasn’t this individual, unlike Dr Patrick Tan, granted a further deferment for his PhD?
Other outstanding and talented individuals, such as this violinist prodigy Ike See in 2006, was forced to change his course from a three-year to a two-year diploma so that he could defer NS. In other words, they didn’t always get what they wanted and had to compromise their own demands to accommodate MINDEF, who may later allow them to disrupt on less favourable terms than they might have liked. Was there any indication Dr Patrick Tan had to compromise on what he had sought in order to get disrupted?
And the most ironic thing about Ike See’s application for disruption? Curtis music school, the article notes, is the music world’s equivalent of Oxford or Stanford, the latter of which was attended by Dr Patrick Tan:
Curtis is like the Oxbridge or Stanford of the music world. You have to compete with people from around the world for a place there.
Some other puzzling things and questions
Now, in Dr Patrick Tan’s CV, it states that he was granted the Loke Cheng Kim scholarship and President’s Scholar in 1987. Now that’s a curious thing. ‘A’ Level results are typically released only in the year after the candidate has sat for them. So how could he have been awarded the two scholarships in 1987 especially when news reports say he was awarded in 1988?
Another puzzling thing is that Dr Patrick Tan says that he was attached to DMERI for his NS:
I was attached to what is now the Defence Medical and Environmental Research Institute (DMERI, then called DMRI) to research Burkholderia pseudomallei, the bacterium that causes melioidosis.
Now there’s a big difference between being posted to DMERI and being attached there. If he was attached, what was his parent unit? In other words, what was he supposed to be doing if he wasn’t attached out?
Some closing thoughts. Some people might say that this is a personal attack on Dr Tony Tan and his family. Let me emphasise here that it is not. It’s a separate issue. Accordingly I have avoided mentioning Dr Tony Tan for much of the discussion above. This issue has taken a life of its own independent of Dr Tony Tan’s presidential campaign. In fact it has even inspired a letter to the ST Forum which called for MINDEF to explicitly spell out and clarify the NS deferment/disruption criteria. It’s unfortunate, though, that this surfaced only when Dr Tony Tan decided to run for president.
PAP apologists and Dr Tony Tan’s defenders have been quick to argue that being close to the PAP and the establishment’s inner circle for many years should not automatically disqualify Tony Tan as a presidential candidate. Professional qualifications and attitudes, they say should be the only criteria considered rather than political independence.
Likewise the same people should not be so quick to dismiss questions about Dr Patrick Tan’s NS stint just because his father happens to be the target of politically motivated criticism. Let the issue be judged on its own merits, just as the PE candidates should be.