The Weekly’s Great Women of Our Time Awards is an annual initiative to shine the spotlight on ordinary Malaysian women, doing extraordinary things.
A star student who obtained the world’s highest score for her professional exams and went on to win a RM1 million grant to pursue her PhD in Cambridge, Professor Woo Yin Ling could have had her pick of any specialisation.
However, during her housemanship, a senior doctor’s compassionate touch in treating cancer patients left an impression on her. The encounter led her into the field of gynaecological oncology, a subspecialisation that involves treating women with cancers originating from reproductive tracts.
After 20 years abroad, of which she spent four years researching the human papillomavirus (HPV) immunology, Dr Woo returned to Malaysia fully qualified as a clinician-scientist. In other words, she is equally competent as a clinical doctor and a scientist – a rare breed, even in the West.
Though juggling the demands of both areas is not easy, Dr Woo is highly motivated by how both fields contribute to each other’s progress.
As head of a core immunology facility within the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Malaya, her research on the immune system can potentially advance the treatment of cancer patients.
As a consultant at University Malaya Medical Centre, her interactions with patients allow her to glean invaluable local insights that help her tailor more effective care unique to Malaysians.
“Our patients’ biology and culture are different from overseas, so treatments must be localised,” she says. “Doctors need to be sensitive to taboos about taking pills, surrogacy and so on. Medicine is an art requiring the human touch and learnt by observation rather than didactic teaching.”
Dr Woo hopes that her work will shed more visibility on gynaecological cancer, which still remains one of the least understood diseases.
Text: Alexandra Wong /Shoot Coordinated By Jasnitha Nair / Styling: Sabrina Salehuddin / Photo: Brian Fang/ M8 Studio / Make Up: Zoee Low / Elizabeth Arden Trainer / Clothes: Nichii / Accessories: Her own