Monday, March 14, 2011

Dr. Yang Min-Sheng reflects on his life journey in an interview with the National Taiwan University Alumni Magazine -Part I

Founder and chairman of Min-Sheng Healthcare Network, Dr। Yang Min-Sheng started his business as a one-man surgical clinic 35 years ago। He shared his clinic space with other physicians, so that patients would benefit from doctors of different specialties. Thirty-five years later, Min-Sheng Healthcare Network has become a healthcare enterprise operating 1200 beds. In this article we will learn about the history, growth and evolution of the Min-Sheng Healthcare Network. Its expansion strategies of “sell and lease back” and “merge and acquisition” completely broke the norms of the healthcare industry in Taiwan.

Inspired by Professor Dr. Yang Si-Biao

In 1959, Dr। Yang Min-Sheng graduated from Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School, and although he ranked in the top 5 in academic performance, it wasn’t enough to enter the medical school of National Taiwan University (NTU). Fortunately he was admitted to NTU medical school because a prospective student gave up on the opportunity. However back then, Dr. Yang’s real interest was not in medicine but in civil engineering. He didn’t concentrate on his studies and wasted plenty of valuable time outside school. One thing worth mentioning is that he began to learn Japanese which he was able to use later in life while participating in Rotary Club activities.

In his 3rd year in medical school, academic requirements began to be very tough, and he was forced to commit himself to studying in order to survive in the highly competitive medical student group। Not until he began his internship at the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) in his 5th year, did he find his passion and enthusiasm toward medicine. Finally in the 7th year, he was top of his class in academic performance and he started to build the confidence required to be a good doctor.

When he started his clinical residency at NTUH, his mentor was Professor Dr। Yang Si-Biao। Professor Yang was a specialist in TB treatment. Back in those days, the technology was not very advanced, and diagnosis was mostly based on physical exams that require experience and expertise from the physician. Professor Yang was a very good role model for Dr. Yang Min-Sheng in terms of medical practice and caring for patients. Dr. Yang Min-Sheng decided to be a good physician like Professor Yang.

Choosing GI surgery as his specialty

For most medical students, surgery is the top choice of specialty, and Dr. Yang Min-Sheng was no exception. He recalls: “A surgeon looks very confident. When patients come to the hospital they look very sick, but they become energetic 2-3 days after surgery… this is so amazing.”

This was a time of constant surgical innovations, such as “finger fracture” for liver surgery created by the famous surgeon Professor Dr. Lin Tien-Yo, or open heart surgery and lung surgery. There were also many opportunities for young surgeons to further study overseas. For all these reasons and the fact that his other mentor, Professor Dr. Hsu Shu-Chien (the one who introduced him to the lady who would later become his wife) specialized in GI surgery, Dr. Yang Min-Sheng chose GI surgery as specialty.

There are many other teachers that Dr. Yang Min-Sheng also appreciated, such as Professor Lin Huai-Shan who taught histology, Professor Yeh Shu who taught pathology, and Professor Yeh Chia-Ying who taught Chinese. Dr. Yang Min-Sheng learned how to be a good physician from these talented and compassionate mentors.

However, the memory of medical school is not all pleasant. Studying biochemistry was a nightmare. He was one of three students who failed in that subject, and Professor Chang Yu-Cheng (also the Chief Officer for Academics) didn’t give him a chance to appeal. “That was the only makeup exam I had in my entire life. The summer of my 2nd year made for the darkest days in my academic life” says Dr. Yang Min-Sheng.

Building confidence from being the leading actor in a stage-play

Dr. Yang Min-Sheng never participated in university extracurricular activities during his 7 years at NTU because of the heavy academic workload and his shy personality. The only exception was that he was accidentally chosen to be the leading actor in a stage-play called “The Ding-Sher Family (meaning: a rich family).” Dr. Yang Min-Sheng played the part of the father in the family and his natural and hilarious acting was loved by the audience. It also gave him the chance to interact with female classmates who had so far seemed to be “inaccessible.” This experience helped Dr. Yang regain his confidence.

Being tired of commuting between Taipei and Taoyuan everyday, he started staying at his classmates’ or private-tutoring students’ places. In his 5th year, he even lived at the medical school’s old library located next to the morgue. Says Dr. Yang: “I didn’t mind it at all. It was a very quiet and a good place for me to study at night.”

TB infection motivated him to open his own hospital

In his 2nd year at NTUH, Dr। Yang contracted tuberculosis (TB) and underwent surgery as an inpatient। Without that experience, he wouldn’t have comprehended the pain and hardship of being a patient. “This happened a day when Professor Chen Kai-Mu (AKA: The Thunder God) told me to insert a patient with a Foley catheter. I was too busy and forgot about it. When Professor Chen visited the patient in her room later after surgery and the patient complained, he yelled at me for being forgetful. At that moment I began to vomit blood and was sent to the operation room immediately by my colleagues.” There he was tied to the surgery table and was inserted a bronchoscope rudely by an ENT doctor. I suffered during the entire examination process. I told myself, I wouldn’t do this to my patients in the future.” said Dr. Yang. Thanks to the operation by Professor Lin Tien-Yo, his disease was cured, however difficulty urinating and emptying his bowels after surgery made Dr. Yang experience the sufferings of being a patient again. He says “I was so bored staying in a hospital. The only things I was looking forward to were the visits by my primary nurse everyday.”

At first his goal was to be a successful plastic surgeon, but he didn’t receive a recommendation from Professor Hsu to study plastic surgery overseas. As a part-time physician at NTUH his income was limited, meanwhile he didn’t receive financial supports from his in-laws anymore. Furthermore, because his history of TB he had to alter his plans of being a physician overseas. Instead, he decided to open his own clinic in his hometown of Taoyuan City.

With his reputation from training at NTUH, Dr. Yang’s surgical clinic attracted many patients and its business did very well. In order to better serve his patients, he opened his clinic space to other specialists. If patients needed a surgery that Dr. Yang couldn’t perform himself, he would invite other specialist to the clinic to operate on them. Thanks to this service, patients no longer needed to travel to Taipei for specialty surgeries and treatments. He also opened several branch hospitals and nursing homes in rural areas of Taoyuan. “When I earned 10 thousand dollars, I dreamed of contributing 50 thousand dollars to society. When I got 100 thousand dollars, I dreamed of contributing more. My goal is to continuously realize dreams.”

Dr. Yang Min-Sheng retired from clinical service two years ago. Over his career he has helped relieve the pains from disease of countless patients, but what always brought Dr. Yang the greatest feeling of accomplishment was to help patients solve their financial difficulties. “In those days physicians had more autonomy and freedom. We could freely decide how to charge a patient. Take an Appendectomy for example; we would charge wealthy patient $30,000. But for a poor patient, a chicken was good enough to pay for the surgery. We robbed the rich and helped the poor. Like a gentleman thief. We often solved the patients’ physical and emotional problems, and won their respects and friendship.” This good patient-physician relationship motivated Dr. Yang Min-Sheng to keep moving.


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