SINGAPORE – Coming from a single-parent household where finances were tight has taught 24-year-old Arturo Neo to work hard for what he wants.

And the newly-minted doctor has done just that.

During his valedictorian speech at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) University Cultural Centre on Sunday (July 14), he shared an encounter he had with a patient during his first month of housemanship.

The patient, an Indian national who has worked for a construction company here for 20 years, had suffered a massive stroke and was partially paralysed.

Dr Neo and his colleagues made numerous calls and arranged a conference with the man’s employers in a bid to convince them to choose a better, but more expensive, health care option for the man’s recovery.

In the end, the company agreed with their recommendation.

Said Dr Neo: “We are often caught up with day-to-day admin tasks and we may not have time to stop, to think about what else we can do to make the lives of our patients better, unless we make an active effort to do so.”

The experience taught him to “fight for our patients”, he added,addressing around 300 fellow Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery graduates who were at the commencement ceremony.

Dr Neo is into his third month as an Internal Medicine House Officer at the National University Hospital, and before graduating had volunteered regularly at the NUS Medicine’s Neighbourhood Health Service, which offers health screening to needy residents living in rental flats throughout Singapore.

Speaking to The Straits Times before the ceremony, he said: “My family struggled financially when I was younger, but it was nothing compared to the poverty and circumstances we saw on the ground.”

His parents divorced when he was two, and his mother, Madam Ng Mui Soo, 66, brought he and his two elder siblings up on her monthly income of $1,500 as a childcare teacher.

Serving the underprivileged community has taught Dr Neo to empathise with patients, especially after realising that this group often has a host of other concerns and, as a result, medical care is sometimes the last thing on their mind.

“It helped me understand the constraints and limitations that some people have, and sometimes you need to probe to find out why they’re not taking their medication or why they do not want to see a doctor,” he said.

Also speaking at Sunday’s ceremony was Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, chief health scientist at the Ministry of Health and executive director of the ministry’s Office for Healthcare Transformation.

In his speech, Prof Tan reminded the young doctors present of the “precious gift” of skills and knowledge gained in their five years of medical school.

“They not only allow you to diagnose and heal, but also to serve patients well, be a source of comfort, and to have a positive impact on communities, no matter where they are.”