Our lives are really a composite of stories that speaks of our journey from birth to death, and our lasting legacies are those precious memories etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about us. In That aspect, “Malaya’s Lady Tiger” Dr Soo Kim Lan carved an amazing tale — and it lives on to this day. Her legacy of a life well lived has been condensed into a touching tribute to a woman who, against all odds, became Malaya’s first Chinese woman doctor in 1923, breaking prejudicial barriers against women in medicine in an era where social norms did not do much justice for women wanting to explore fields that were predominated by men.
A compilation of historic articles, private memoirs and personal recollections by those closest to her, Malaya’s Grand Lady Of Medicine chronicles the life and times of Dr Soo, and also offers a rare glimpse of Malaysia and Singapore spanning two centuries.
The Story of Ambition
Born in 1894, Soo Kim Lan exhibited an early passion for the field of medicine. Mending and restoring dolls evolved to caring for hurt strays which she would bring home and nurse to health. Despite her aspirations, the social norms of those days dictated that she follow the well-trodden path of being a teacher.
At the start of the 20th century, women had a very stereotypical role in society, which made it near impossible for them, and Soo in particular, to be accepted into medical college. She received her early education at the Lady Treacher School, Taiping. However, World War 1 broke out just before she completed her teachers’ training programme. The war lasted through her years as a teacher from 1915 to 1917 but Soo’s passion to pursue her chosen field of medicine never waned. In 1917, she won the Tan Giak Kim Scholarship to study medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine, Singapore.
Her determination paid off and there was no looking back for the persistent young woman. In 1923, she passed her final exams to graduate and become, soon after, the first woman medical doctor in Malaya.
THE STORY OF PASSION
A woman ahead of her times, Dr Soo established her private service clinic in 1927. She was the first woman to operate a clinic for women and children, and volunteered her medical services at the Chinese Maternity Hospital, Kuala Lumpur for over 33 years.
When the Malayan Union was formed in 1946, Dr Soo was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Malayan Union. She used that platform to raise numerous important issues relating to health and medical treatments. She sought to improve conditions for public health and welfare wherever she went, even if it meant delivering medical aid and daily supplies by herself to those in need, right up to the remote kampungs (villages) of Terengganu.
For her efforts and selfless service, she was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1947, followed by the Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (Meritorious Service Medal) in 1948 bestowed by DYMM Sultan of Selangor, and the Ahli Mangku Negara (Member of the Order of the Defender of the Realm) in 1971 by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
THE STORY OF FAMILY
While she made great strides in opening doors for women to enter the medical profession, and spearheading efforts in raising the level of healthcare for all citizens in the country regardless of race, Dr Soo’s biggest role was that of a benevolent matriarch to her large extended family.
The author and curator of Dr Soo’s biography is none other than her grandniece Dr Jacquelyn PY Soo, who has fond memories of her grandaunt: “Everyone who walked in and out of our house were family. A few times, when neighbors dropped by in the middle of our raucous games in the garden, she would quickly get us to greet them with courtesy.
Her name Kim Lan means “Golden Orchid” in Cantonese, and with her fondness for orchids, her love for family and selfless passion for service, Dr Soo has undoubtedly led a life worth reading about. Her grandniece concludes: “This book was birthed out of the hope that it will add to the understanding of our nation’s history and to celebrate the lives of Malaysians who have contributed to the building of this country.
Source :New Strait Times