Photo credit: Bruno Glätsch
He had everything by the time he was in his 30s: wealth measured in millions of dollars, a thriving aesthetics practice and sports cars, including a Ferrari 430.
Dr Richard Teo on his pursuit of success and money
Thirst for riches
I am a typical product of today’s society. From young, I was told by the media… and people around me that happiness is about success.
And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I’ve always been extremely competitive.
I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialities. So I went after that as well.
In the process, I was given two patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this… did not bring me any wealth.
So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that training in eye surgery is just taking too long.
And there’s lots of money to be made in the private sector… in aesthetic medicine. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic… in town, together with a day surgery centre.
You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out of average GPs, family physicians. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous.
People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person will have no qualms paying $10,000 for a liposuction, $15,000 for a breast augmentation.
So instead of healing the sick, I decided that I’ll become a glorified beautician. Business was good, very good. I employed one doctor, a second doctor, third doctor, fourth doctor. And within the first year, we’re already raking in millions.
I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn’t blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.
So what do I do with the spare cash? How do I spend my weekends?
Typically, I’ll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We’ll go up to Sepang in Malaysia.
We’ll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do I do? I get myself a Ferrari.
It’s time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. We mix around with the rich and famous… Miss Universe… an Internet founder.
So this is how we spend our lives, with dining… all the restaurants and Michelin chefs. I was at the pinnacle of my career. I thought I was having everything under control.
Painful lessons learnt
Well, I was wrong. I didn’t have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere.
I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it’s not a slipped disc or anything.
We had more scans the next day, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like “Whoa where did that come from?”.
It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals.
I went into depression, of course, severe depression.
See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy.
I can hug my Ferrari to sleep… No, it is not going to happen.
What really brought me joy in the last 10 months …
… was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through.
I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but I couldn’t.
As a house officer posted to the oncology department at NUH, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department.
When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through.
I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all.
But it was just a job. I do it, I get out of the ward, I can’t wait to get home, I do my own stuff.
I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you, yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.
Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth.
And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong.
The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn’t handle it. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me.
Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.
I’m not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don’t think that is professional, but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain?
My challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient’s shoes.
When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself of all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live.
“Are you going to make a difference to other people’s lives in your lifetime?” – Dr Richard Teo Keng Siang
Source: Asia One
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