A LEADING Singaporean heart surgeon has been awarded a prestigious accolade for spearheading a yearly course for cardiothoracic surgeons to learn from the best in the field.

Professor Lee Chuen Neng, who chairs the university surgical cluster at the National University Hospital (NUH), was in Edinburgh over the weekend to accept the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh's International Medal. One medal is given out every year to a surgeon from a Commonwealth country.

Prof Lee, who turns 61 today, is the third Singaporean to receive the medal over the last 14 years. Surgeons Raj Nambiar and Arthur Lim won the award in 2003 and 2001 respectively.

College president David Tolley lauded Prof Lee for his 'outstanding contributions in advancing the field of surgery'.

He was instrumental in establishing two programmes which are jointly run by the Edinburgh college and its partners in Singapore and Hong Kong, said Mr Tolley in a statement.

One awards aspiring cardiothoracic surgeons a fellowship from both the Edinburgh college and the partner institution in Singapore or Hong Kong.

The second is the annual Asian Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialty Update Course which gathers professionals in the field, from surgeons and anaesthesiologists to nurses, to learn from world experts and one another. About 250 from Asia take part yearly.

With the many changes in the field of cardiothoracic surgery, Prof Lee said the course gives not just trainees but senior surgeons a chance to refresh their skills and share best practices. The seventh edition of the course, which alternates between Singapore and Hong Kong, will be held in NUH in November.

Prof Lee said the medal was a great honour and that he looks forward to continue working with colleagues from all over the world 'to educate the next generation of surgeons here in Singapore as well as overseas'.

The Mayo Clinic-trained surgeon set up NUH's then division of cardiothoracic surgery in 1985. He left for private practice in 1992 but returned to NUH in 2001.

Since then, he has set up an advanced surgery training centre which has instructed more than 8,000 local and international surgeons since opening in 2008.

In a statement yesterday, chairman of NUH's medical board Aymeric Lim praised Prof Lee for returning to public health care to 'serve Singaporeans and mentor the next generation of doctors'.