Pik-Yee Kan: Dialogue with an Adventist family physician in Singapore

Dr. Pik-Yee Kan is a young, vivacious, and dedicated family physician. She, along with a group of Adventist physicians, operates clinics in various housing estates in Singapore as an outreach ministry. Working closely with families provides her an opportunity to witness to the residents of the area.

Born in an Adventist family, Dr. Kan is the youngest of four girls. She attended public schools from the age of seven and graduated in 1992 with a M.B.B.A. degree from the National University of Singapore. Two years later she married Johnny Kan, an associate pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church in Singapore and chaplain of San Yu High School, one of the two Seventh-day Adventist secondary schools in the country.

Being a doctor and a pastor's wife has not kept Dr. Kan from witnessing. In her clinic, she has Christian pamphlets and Voice of Prophecy enrollment cards for patients to read and to take home. She conducts health seminars that emphasize the ideal lifestyle and God's natural remedies. At church she helps in youth services and supports her husband. She opens her home to the youth of the church and often involves herself in counseling them in their personal problems.

Dialogue interviewed Dr. Kan in Utrecht, the Netherlands, during the World Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Dr. Kan, what factors led you to choose a medical career?

As a high school student, I was very interested in science and biology. I am also very people-oriented. I wanted to have a career that would allow me to meet and serve people. When I applied for medical school, I was one of about 1000 applicants to be interviewed by the medical board, and only 200 were to be selected. I knew I was not one of the top students. I prayed that God would help me perceive my calling and mission through the outcome of the interview. When I was selected, therefore, I knew what the Lord wanted me to do.

What mission have you perceived for yourself in your chosen career?

I am first and foremost a Christian, then a doctor. I look at my work as a means of mediating God's care to people in pain. Not only do I want my patients to get well physically, but I want them to be conscious of their spiritual needs. I want to share with them the hope of eternal life.

Tell us about your experience as a Seventh-day Adventist attending a public university.

My student experience at the National University of Singapore was a challenging one. Because I was the only Adventist in the medical school, I was bombarded by many questions regarding my faith by Christians of other denominations, for they considered Adventism a cult. I had to really search the Scriptures to come up with adequate answers and to share my convictions.

Did you encounter any problems at the university?

One major problem I faced was Sabbath observance. We had classes, tutorials, and exams on Saturday almost every week, and I had to request rescheduling. Occasionally things worked out, but many times I had to skip classes and tutorials and fail the exams.

In fact, in the third year of my studies, I came very close to losing my place in the medical school. Our practicals were divided into several groups, with one supervisor for each. Unfortunately, my group supervisor was unsympathetic to my request for Sabbath privilege. I pled with him many times, but he could not comprehend my need for Sabbath observance. And moreover, why should others in the group be inconvenienced by rescheduling the practicals so that I could observe my religious practice? He warned me that I would fail the practical and jeopardize my chance for graduation, should I skip the sessions scheduled for Saturday. I made it a matter of prayer. My church members prayed with me. Eventually the supervisor passed me in the practicals, based on my work done on days other than the Sabbath. The most severe test, however, came in my final year.

What happened?

When the final examination schedule was published, one of my theory papers was listed for Saturday. If I did not sit for that exam, I knew I would fail the finals. I would have to wait for six months to repeat that particular paper in a supplementary exam. I approached the registrar with my plight. She was of no help. In fact she warned me that the supplementary paper also would most likely fall on a Saturday again. If I were not to take it, I would be retained another year. I was very discouraged not only because of the time involved but also because of finances. I would be placing an additional financial burden on my parents.

In situations like that, our only recourse is God. I prayed earnestly and kept studying for the exams. As the exams neared, even my non-Christian classmates told me how much they were impressed by my faith in God, although they didn't understand what the Sabbath was all about. Christians from other denominations wrote and encouraged me to stand firm for what I believed.

Did you sit for the examination?

No, I didn't. The practical exams came a week later. The examiner was so impressed with my performance that he recommended to the board that I be allowed to pass despite my having missed one paper. The board rejected the recommendation; they didn't want to set a precedent. I failed all right, but the entire case served as a testimony to my faith on the campus. But then, something happened. One of our church members approached the pastor and offered to sponsor me anonymously for the extra six months. If one door closes, the Lord opens another one. Through the generosity of this church member, I was able to complete the extra six months of my studies without any financial problem.

Just before the supplementary examination schedule was to come out, I saw the registrar again. This time she assured me, "No problem. This exam will definitely be scheduled on a weekday." It was amazing to see how God had changed her attitude toward my problem. I passed the exams and graduated from medical school.

Was your decision to remain loyal to the observance of the Sabbath a result of some kind of struggle within? Or was it natural, and you had no question at all as to what you would do?.

Well, before this major confrontation in my faith life, God had already been preparing me throughout the years I was studying in public schools. In secondary school, I faced Sabbath problems, but the test was on a smaller scale. It wasn't threatening my career. In medical school also I had tests and tutorials scheduled on Sabbath. Standing firm in these small struggles strengthened my faith and prepared me for the big one.

What helped you to remain true to your convictions?

A combination of several factors. Without the support and prayers of my Christian friends, the pastor, and my family members, I would not have been so strong. My husband, who was at that time my boyfriend, was a constant source of encouragement as we studied the Bible and prayed together often.

Of course, at the base is a primary commitment to God. Without that faith that assures us that everything is possible with God, nothing is possible with us.

What advice would you give to Adventist students in similar circumstances?

When you are in a non-Adventist environment, perhaps as the only Adventist in the entire student body, you really have to reexamine your own faith and the doctrines of the church and make sure where you stand and why. You will encounter many challenges and questions. If you don't have a clear understanding of what you believe in, you will have problems.

Spend time studying the Scriptures. Know the Lord for yourself. Be an example in your lifestyle. Our behavior is one of the greatest testimonies we can bear for Jesus before our non-Christian friends. The way we dress, speak, or relate has much to say about what we believe.

Aside from you career in medicine, you are also a minister's wife. What made you decide to marry a pastor?

To be honest, it took me quite a while to make up my mind. When I began dating Johnny, he had just graduated from engineering at the Singapore Polytechnic. About that time, one of the ministers encouraged him to go into the ministry. Both of us prayed very earnestly about it and decided that God wanted us to take an active part in the ministry. So Johnny enrolled in the Seminary, graduated with a theology degree, and entered the ministry. Medical and pastoral ministry go well together. I consider being a pastor's wife a calling from God. Together we enjoy our team ministry.

Interview by Mary Wong. Mary Wong (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is the editorial assistant for Dialogue. Dr. Kan's address: c/o Singapore Sam Yu High School, 297-A Thomson Road, Singapore 1130, Republic of Singapore.