Mention the name ‘Bernard Cheong’ and one would most probably know about him and his extensive watch collection, which has been featured numerous times in various luxury lifestyle publications. There’s hardly any mention of his practice or other interests, apart from him being the founder of Lifeline Medical Group in 1987.
Over email, Cheong answers questions in single sentences. He comes across as straight to the point, with little time or interest in detailing his career. But in person, he’s only too glad to share his thoughts, often breaking into an impish grin.
“I am selfish”, Cheong exclaims. “I chose this career not because it was glamorous. It’s because I wanted to enjoy life.”
He explains, “We were doctors before there was the internet of today, where you could read up on almost everything you want to. Back then, if you had to look something up, you went to the library to borrow a particular book. That’s how most doctors in my day became specialists; they kept reading about the same topic, and in depth. General practitioners didn’t hold the same importance as specialists. We were known for operating under HDB flats and catering to the masses. It wasn’t a glamorous job.”
But being a general practitioner offered the life Cheong wanted. He founded Lifeline Medical Group with a selection of like-minded friends, all of whom had chosen to be general practitioners because they wanted to build a well-rounded life that didn’t revolve around their jobs. He believes this was something that a more prestigious, hospital-based role in specialised medicine would not have allowed. “I can go on holidays as and when I want. As a specialist, there are chances that you’ll receive calls for emergency operations, and I didn’t want that,” he laughs.
But when asked if he would ever leave the medical world for a different industry, the answer from the proud general practitioner was a decisive no. After all, health, not material possessions, is what truly matters. “He who dies last, wins,” he quips in his signature irreverent manner.