The Pro

ER detective who is cool and decisive

Prof Anantharaman's best tip to everyone is to learn CPR (cardio- pulmonary resuscitation), so that more lives can be saved.
Prof Anantharaman's best tip to everyone is to learn CPR (cardio- pulmonary resuscitation), so that more lives can be saved.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Professor Anantharaman has helped to shape the field of emergency medicine here

Q I specialise in emergency medicine because...

A It is the one discipline where you can see patients improving in front of your eyes.

For instance, an unresponsive patient could be speaking to you in a matter of minutes because you intervened.

Q If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I'd be…

A A detective who solves problems.

I have to be decisive, initiate treatments actively and watch the truth unfold before me.

  • BioBox


    Age: 65

    Occupation: Senior consultant, department of emergency medicine, Singapore General Hospital

    Trained in internal medicine, Prof Anantharaman became interested in emergency medicine in the early 1980s. After receiving training in Edinburgh, he helped to formulate training programmes for those who wanted to be trained in emergency medicine.

    Today, there are 156 trained emergency physicians on the Singapore Medical Council's register and nearly 100 in training.

    Prof Anantharaman, known among his colleagues as the father of emergency medicine here, has also been involved in the management of numerous local disasters.

    The clinical professor at the National University of Singapore and adjunct professor at Duke-NUS Medical School also chairs Singapore's National Resuscitation Council.

    His wife is a renal transplant physician at the National University Hospital. Their eldest child is a scientist while their second son is doing his PhD in political philosophy. Their daughter is a resident in internal medicine.


You can see patients improving in front of your eyes. For instance, an unresponsive patient could be speaking to you in a matter of minutes because you intervened.

PROFESSOR VENKATARAMAN ANANTHARAMAN, on why he specialises in emergency medicine.

Q One little-known fact about the profession is...

A Very few ER doctors in Singapore join the private sector because the public sector offers the greatest scope today for pushing the boundaries of emergency care and developing treatments that help patients recover faster.

Q ER doctors are sometimes misunderstood because...

A Emergency medicine is a relatively new discipline in Singapore. Some senior physicians remain ignorant of the immense talents within the discipline and presume that ER doctors are much like the junior doctors posted there more than 30 years ago.

Q Patients who get my goat are...

A Those who insist on certain tests or scans just because they have done some reading online and do not realise that initial management does not necessarily need such diagnostic tests to be done.

Q I come across all types of cases from ...

A Patients with injuries such as bullet wounds and slashed throats, to those with chest pain, breathing difficulties and troubled minds.

The horror cases I encountered in my early days included a newborn baby with stab wounds and a man who had slashed his own neck in a suicide attempt. Both were successfully resuscitated.

There were also the workers who fell into wet cement which entered their airways. We could not resuscitate them and they died due to the extent of their injuries.

Q A typical day for me would be...

A Variable. I can start the day by attending meetings or seeing patients.

The time is interspersed with teaching students, developing new programmes or planning the next project. Or I might see patients in the afternoon and attend meetings in the late evening.

I am usually home by about 8pm to have dinner with my family. After spending time with them, I will focus on my administrative work. I do this till about 1am before going to bed for about five to six hours.

Brisk walking on weekends is something that I look forward to.

Q Things that put a smile on my face are...

A Seeing a patient improve, the ones who say "thank you" and, also, when my colleagues do well.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A We have to break the bad news to a patient's next-of-kin that he has died, in spite of all we have done.

Q My best tip is...

A Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). We know that more lives have been saved every year because, increasingly, more people know CPR.

I was among the first to learn it when CPR training was introduced here in 1983 at the Singapore General Hospital.

Q I wouldn't trade places for any other discipline because...

A I am needed to teach my younger colleagues the right approach to emergency care and I love what I do.

There are still so many things that need to be done to improve emergency patient care.

We have the opportunity to improve care at such an early stage in the development of the disease and make a positive contribution to better patient outcomes.

I continue to learn from my patients, students and colleagues. The new generation of doctors is brilliant and will be better than us.

They have to be because we want them to take care of us when we need medical care and, of course, we will want the best.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'ER detective who is cool and decisive'. Print Edition | Subscribe