The National University of Singapore (NUS) today conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters on Dr Oon Chiew Seng, in recognition of her accomplishments as one of Singapore’s first obstetrics and gynaecology practitioners; and her contributions towards research on women’s health, anti-ageing science and dementia at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine).
The President of the Republic of Singapore and NUS Chancellor, Madam Halimah Yacob, presented the honorary degree to Dr Oon at a special conferment ceremony held at the University Cultural Centre at NUS Kent Ridge Campus.
The honorary degree is one of the University’s highest forms of recognition for outstanding individuals who have rendered distinguished service and created significant impact in Singapore and beyond.
Dr Oon Chiew Seng, a distinguished 104-year-old NUS Medicine alumna, embodies the spirit of public service and compassion through her life’s work. From starting an obstetrics and gynaecology clinic in 1959, to setting up a care facility for dementia patients in her later years, Dr Oon is a compassionate champion of humanitarian efforts and committed to serving vulnerable communities.
NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said, “NUS is honoured and privileged to confer the Honorary Doctor of Letters to Dr Oon Chiew Seng, in recognition of her contributions in rendering distinguished service to the community. Her generous and unwavering support of medical education and research attests to her advancement of learning and knowledge – which has greatly benefitted our society and Singapore – is laudable and worthy of recognition.”
“I am delighted to receive this distinction in recognition of my life’s work and my contribution to society and nation building for the last 75 years. Many generations ago, I matriculated at a time of great uncertainty due to the war. We are in the midst of challenging times and great uncertainty in the coming months and years. But I am assured we will persevere and overcome challenges at the personal and national levels through grit, career resilience, moral integrity and clarity of purpose,” said Dr Oon.
Lifelong dedication to medical education and public service
Dr Oon, the youngest of 10 children, was born in 1916 in Penang, Malaysia. She was a nurse in the 1930s, before transitioning to medical studies as a student at the King Edward VII Medical College in Singapore, a predecessor institution of NUS. Dr Oon graduated in 1948, and subsequently in 1953, she was awarded a Queen’s Fellowship for specialist training in obstetrics and gynaecology in the United Kingdom. In 1955, she became one of the first women in Southeast Asia to qualify as a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Between 1959 to 1991, she led her own private medical practice and served in various key roles – President of Singapore’s Obstetrics & Gynaecologists Society for several years, as well as a member of Singapore’s Family and Population Board in 1971.
In her later years, Dr Oon volunteered at a home for the aged sick before establishing Apex Harmony Lodge, Singapore’s first nursing home for dementia residents in 1999. After studying elder care homes around the world, she pioneered a new care concept for Alzheimer’s patients in Singapore, before relinquishing her role as Chairman of the Apex Harmony Lodge Management Committee in 2012.
Dr Oon is an Honorary Fellow of the Asia and Oceania Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She is the second of only three Singaporeans to receive an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, in recognition of her dedication to nurturing generations of obstetricians and gynaecologists in Singapore and the region. She was conferred the Public Service Medal in 2000, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ministry of Health in 2011. In 2013, she received the prestigious Public Service Star and the President’s Special Recognition Award for Volunteerism and Philanthropy. Dr Oon was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014.
As a distinguished alumna of NUS Medicine, Dr Oon’s passionate dedication to medical education and public service continues to leave a lasting impact on the community. Her efforts to raise awareness about dementia and support caregivers inspired a contribution of funds for research in women’s health, anti-ageing science and dementia at NUS Medicine, which deepened understanding and led to important findings in these fields.
Past recipients of the NUS Honorary Doctor of Letters include Mr Chua Thian Poh, Founder of Ho Bee Group (2019); Mr Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (2016); the late Mr S R Nathan, Sixth President of the Republic of Singapore and Former NUS Chancellor (2012); His Excellency Dr Li Lanqing, former Vice Premier of the State Council, People’s Republic of China (2006); and the late Professor Sydney Brenner, one of the world’s pioneers in genetics and molecular biology and 2002 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (1995).