Exceptional treatment for exceptional individuals?Posted: July 31, 2011
Rumour has it that Patrick Tan Boon Ooi, son of Tony Tan, received exceptional treatment in his NS disruption and NS posting.
Some argue that his exceptional skills justified the exceptional treatment.
Others are unhappy that Patrick Tan was not deployed in frontline duty.
GET THE FACTS
[Updated August 2nd] Some additional interesting reads:
- White horses in the SAF: A personal experience
- Above Top Secret: What was Patrick Tan’s real NS vocation?
Take a deep breath – this will be a long one. We did lots of digging. We even approached netizen Jessica Tan for help (as she first highlighted it in Temasek Review), but she didn’t reply.
1. Did Patrick Tan enlist with his cohort?
From what we can find online, Patrick Tan finished A-Levels in 1987 and then enlisted with his cohort in 1988, completing BMT and OCS (Junior Term).
2. How did Patrick Tan disrupt NS to study Medicine overseas?
Patrick Tan took a President’s Scholarship and Loke Cheng Kim Scholarship for medical training in the USA. In the late 1980s, it was possible to disrupt NS for overseas medical studies.
3. Why is US medical training so long? Why do US doctors take a Bachelor of Arts / Science along the way?
US medical training is longer than in the UK and Australia. Students have to do a 4 year Bachelor’s degree (“pre-medical”) before starting the medical component of training, which is usually 4 years.
4. Why did Patrick Tan spend 4 years pre-medical BA + 8 years medical training? Did he take time out or drop out of course?
Patrick Tan did a MD/PhD course. This takes longer than the usual MD or MBBS. Based on this USA website, the combined MD/PhD is usually 7 to 8 years, but can extend to 10 years.
So it adds up to 4 years BA + 8 years in MD/PhD — yes, that’s long!
5. So why isn’t Patrick Tan practising as a doctor?
After medical school (MD, MBBS or MD/PhD), graduates must do 1 year housemanship in a hospital, to get medical registration and a licence to practice.
From what we can ascertain, Patrick Tan returned to Singapore in 2000 after his BA+MD/PhD and resumed his Full-Time NS, without doing housemanship. So he would not have been able to practice as a doctor.
6. So doctors must finish housemanship, otherwise they cannot become Medical Officers in SAF?
Yes, that seems to be the case. Without medical registration (which comes after housemanship), Patrick Tan cannot go for MOCC or be deployed as a SAF MO.
SAF MOs, in addition to deployment in field units, also are deployed to HQ medical centres. Some postings are harsher than others. But all of them require the doctor to finish housemanship, otherwise he cannot go for MOCC.
Given that Patrick Tan is now doing research full-time, it is possible that he has given up practising medicine altogether. His doctor contemporaries would have been well into their careers by the time he came back.
Cadets who go out-of-course (OOC) after part of OCS may get an enlistee rank such as Corporal (CPL). It is possible that Patrick Tan, having had a 12 year gap between OCS Junior Term and his return, was deemed OOC.
We hear that some senior clerks with additional duties were promoted from CPL to 3SG during NS. It is possible that Patrick Tan was promoted for similar reasons. Only MINDEF knows for sure.
8. What is this Melioidosis disease that Patrick Tan was working on during his NS?
Melioidosis is caused by a germ found in soil and muddy water (Burkholderia pseudomallei). It affects soldiers in the field, and a potential bioweapon.
More information on Melioidosis can be found at the US Centers for Disease Control.
9. Is Melioidosis really that dangerous? Do any Singaporeans actually die of this disease? Have any SAF servicemen died of Melioidosis?
In 2004, the BBC reported that from Jan to July 2004, 57 Singaporeans were diagnosed with Melioidosis and 23 had died. Officials investigated whether Singapore had been targeted by a biological warfare attack, although this was ruled out.
Thanks to Google Scholar, we found a 1997 article about Melioidosis in the SAF. From 1987 to 1994, there were 23 cases in persons serving the SAF. Most were fit and healthy young men – but 4 servicemen still died.
10. Is it just Singapore that thinks Melioidosis is dangerous? I don’t trust Singapore media.
A United States Federal panel has classified the Melioidosis germ (Burkholderia pseudomallei) as a dangerous Tier 1 Agent. [news from Science magazine]
According to the website GlobalSecurity.org, Melioidosis is an “easily obtainable, easily manufactured potential biological agent” and “can be difficult to accurately diagnose”.
GlobalSecurity also tells us that the USA and Soviet Union both researched Melioidosis as a possible biological weapons agent, and that reports suggest the Egyptian bioweapons program also researched Melioidosis.
11. Why was Patrick Tan sent to a Defence Lab instead of a field posting?
Only MINDEF knows for sure. His special skills may have played a role.
With a high enough salary, a foreign scientist with the skills could be hired – but a foreigner might not be trustworthy. Given the role of Melioidosis as a possible biological weapon, security clearance would have been very important.
12. Is Patrick Tan the only NSman to have received exceptional treatment because of special skills?
The SAF Sportsmen scheme allows athletes with strong medal potential to have time off and Full-Pay Unrecorded Leave during Full-Time NS, to train and participate in major competitions. MINDEF also defers NS on a case-by-case basis for sportsmen – e.g. national sailor Justin Liu. Footballers also receive support.
NSFs who are qualified lawyers are often deployed as military prosecutors, which are the equivalent of Deputy Public Prosecutors in the public Courts – but on NSF pay.
Some returning scholars are also given SAF regular’s appointments during Full-Time NS, despite being on NSF pay.
When the SAF deploys highly-qualified individuals who disrupted from NS but have now returned, it is a “cheap” way to get manpower as only NSF pay is given. Certainly MINDEF got Patrick Tan at a bargain price, for the 3SG pay.
SO WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
So what does it all mean? Patrick Tan has unusual talent, and has received unusual treatment. The big question is whether his treatment is because of his skills and the SAF’s needs at the time, or because of his family background.
We have brought you the facts – it’s up to you to decide.