Similar to the winding trails of her beloved hiking adventures which often leads to breathtaking summits, Dr. Harjit Kaur’s career as a breast and endocrine surgeon has embarked on an equally remarkable ascent.
All in the family
Dr. Harjit grew up in a household of doctors and was inspired by her father, an Oncologist who provided her with a glimpse into the profession as a doctor.
She explained her fascination of watching her father interact with other doctors as well as with patients, and the human connection left an indelible impression on Dr. Harjit.
“In school, we learned that being a doctor was a very noble profession. It attracted me because there was a lot of human interaction involved. It’s so nice to see a doctor make someone well because I used to see that a lot as my father was dealing with cancer patients,” she recalled.
A brief detour
Surprisingly Dr. Harjit shifted her ambitions towards becoming a lawyer after completing her high school education. She briefly enrolled in law school for three months but the lack of human interaction led her back on the pathway towards healthcare.
“I realised law school wasn’t for me. I found it to be too dry and did not suit my personality. I told my dad that I would like to study medicine and from there on, there was no looking back,” said Dr. Harjit.
The journey as a surgeon
During her housemanship, Dr. Harjit initially leaned towards gynaecology but was drawn to surgery. Despite the challenges posed by the scarcity of female mentor surgeons, she still pursued her ambitions.
As fate would have it, Dr. Harjit was sent to the surgical department at Ipoh Hospital for her training, and it was there that she met Dato Dr. P. Kandasami who she describes as a fantastic surgeon and a great mentor.
“I still remember his words until today when I told him I’m going to be a gynaecologist and he said ‘I will make a surgeon out of you’. It was him who made me realise that you can be a good surgeon even if you are a woman!” said Dr. Harjit.
A vision for breast surgery and reconstruction
As Dr. Harjit progressed in her surgical career, she started running the breast clinic and it was here that she discovered the challenges faced by women dealing with breast cancer. This realisation ignited a passion for breast reconstruction and a vision for comprehensive breast services.
Following her training, she did her breast fellowship in Australia where she trained to do the sentinel node biopsy which at that time was not practised in Malaysia. She further refined her skills by mastering oncoplastic surgery, and breast reconstruction, and was determined to implement in her practice in Malaysia.
A new beginning at Prince Court
The lure of a state-of-the-art Prince Court Medical Centre which offered facilities including nuclear medicine, prompted Dr. Harjit to leave the government hospital and join the private sector as one of the pioneer consultants. The service of sentinel node biopsy was started here in 2008 offering the full service with both nuclear isotope and blue dye technique
It was at Prince Court where she launched the Breast Centre in 2012, offering a one-stop solution for high-quality consultation, examination, imaging, and management of breast cancer which was officiated by the then Seri Paduka Baginda Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Hajah Haminah.
The Breast Centre now helps breast cancer patients make informed decisions as well as treat breast diseases using state-of-the-art technology including the intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT).
This endeavour has led to more holistic initiatives, including the establishment of ‘Pink Ladies at Prince Court’—a support group designed to provide assistance and support for fellow breast cancer patients.
Chasing a balanced life
Despite her demanding profession, Dr. Harjit has managed to balance her career with family life, supported by her husband. She has now seen her daughter following in her footsteps as a doctor and her son working in corporate finance.
With her children settled, she now has more time to focus on her work and personal pursuits include hiking and trekking. She recently completed a walking holiday from Nagoya to Tokyo, enjoying the historical nakasendo way.
She has also climbed Mount Kinabalu and trekked the mountains in Nepal twice.
A message of hope
Dr. Harjit’s journey is not only a tale of personal achievement but a testament to the spirit of women in medicine. Her work as a breast and endocrine surgeon and her dedication to breast cancer patients have brought hope and healing to countless of women.
“When you tell a patient they have breast cancer, you go through a journey with them, many start stressing, panicking, tearing and going through all kind of emotions. But as we progress you see them get better and the survivors become advocates for other breast cancer patients.
“You see so many heartwarming situations. It is the happiness when you see your patients well that drives all of us doctors. We just want to make sure our patients go home well,” Dr. Harjit smiled.