Cultural champion

Intercultural understanding is in Jonathan Tan’s blood, but it is his appreciation of the fundamental needs of people regardless of race that has set his career apart.

Born to a prominent Singaporean family of Peranakan Chinese heritage, it was his time sharing a tent with fellow draftees of other races in the Singaporean Army that really taught him about people.

“In the Army, you are forced to sleep next to people and work with people from other races all the time and you must work together as a team regardless of your differences,” says Jonathan (MHlthAdmin ’13).

Just over a quarter century later, he balances his job as acting CEO of AsiaMedic with his other role as a lieutenant-colonel in the Singaporean Civil Defence Service, in command of more than 1,000 people, including teams of doctors, surgeons and medical rescue teams.

Life was not always about health for Mr Tan. He initially trained as an engineer and worked in a sequence of multinational companies before having what he describes as a mid-life crisis during his 30s.

“I was hitting my KPIs and work was interesting, but there was something missing – I wanted to spend my life doing something that mattered more.”

Taking the best ideas from other cultures and introducing them locally is critically important in health care, but there are many pitfalls in translating great concepts into actions that will be effective locally.

Mr Tan enrolled in the Flinders University Master of Health Administration course in Singapore to gain formal qualifications in health care management.

Mr Tan keeps in touch with the network of students who graduated with him, and has now been inspired to commence a PhD researching the best climate for medical tourism, helping to identify the key measures that enable medical tourism to be effective.

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