Meet Dr Norzila Mohamed Zainudin: The Paediatric Respiratory Physician Who Celebrates Young Lives

14 January 2022

Article by: Nur Yee Jie Min, Corporate Communications

Dr Norzila doing her medical rounds (second right)

Dr Norzila Mohamed Zainuddin knew she wanted to become a doctor the moment she went to school. This Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Respitory Physician at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway City shared that going to kindergarten was not an option, so her mother was her “teacher” until she started formal education at Treacher Methodist Girls’ School, an English medium school in Taiping, Perak. 

“I don’t know where I got the idea to become a doctor as there are no doctors in my family. I knew I wanted to help people and becoming a doctor would be a good move. After completing my secondary education, I joined Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to study medicine and studied very hard for it. 

“I made sure I passed the exams every year because we couldn’t afford to repeat the subject again as it would mean losing 6 months and by the time I graduate, I would be 24 or 25 years old while my friends would have been working and earning a salary for 2 to 3 years,” said Dr Norzila. 

Children are Genuine

She wanted to get into obstetrics as she felt patients would feel more comfortable being treated by a woman and a Muslim woman at that. But during her houseman years, she realised that the obstetrics unit was always full and she couldn’t get in despite specifically requesting to join. 

“I am not good with surgery as my hands are too small and the gloves are often too big. I’m also not keen on geriatrics as I’ve seen the elderly being admitted to hospital and no one comes to take them home. So if I can’t get into obstetrics, I will definitely do paediatrics and here I am!” 

“People say it is not easy to treat children but they are very genuine. If they are well, they are well. There is no such thing as saying they are not well when they are feeling okay. Also, children are always taken home; even orphans are brought back to the orphanage. There are always people who care about them and that gives me strength and hope,” she said. 

Pay It Forward Through Mentorship

Dr Norzila had an exceptional mentor who guided her journey to becoming a paediatric respiratory physician. This mentorship eventually led her to become the Head of the Respiratory Unit at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital (HKL). She was in her late 30s when she landed the position and she played a significant role in developing the unit. 

She would train new doctors and help them to plan and set up regional respiratory units across the country. Besides her usual clinical work, she had to manage the administrative part of running the unit which includes budgeting, writing proposals, purchasing equipment and managing stock. 

Dr Norzila with her Paediatric Respiratory trainees, one of which whom was visiting Paediatrician from Beijing. (far right)

“Life as a doctor is always busy. While doing my Masters training, I had to care for my patients, study and take exams at the same time. Whenever I had time, I only wanted to sleep. I was lucky as my life was quite settled. My husband supports my career wholly, and my 2 sons were married and I had a little granddaughter then.” 

“I never thought I would leave the public system for private practice until I retired at 58. I wanted to give my best to the public system and I would only leave when I cannot contribute anymore. What makes a good doctor is clinical skills. It’s like if you want to sew a dress, make sure you become the best tailor and do it well. 

“Till today, my husband still encourages me to enjoy my work instead of just staying at home,” she said, adding that she enjoys exercising and reading in her free time. She has also started to cook more and taken up on a little gardening during the pandemic. 

Journeying Life and Growth with Her Patients

The most rewarding aspect of being a paediatrician is being able to see her patients grow up and being able to support children with chronic conditions live a normal life as much as they can. 

One patient who truly made a mark in her life is a boy with cystic fibrosis. He was the first cystic fibrosis patient in Malaysia, whom she treated as a child to adulthood. Dr Norzila became like a second mother to him, giving him the green light like when he wanted to go camping. 

“The moment that really affected me was when I asked him to decide if he wanted to be ventilated as there was nothing more we could do for him. He was in the most critical condition and I couldn’t be his primary doctor when he wanted me to. He passed away at the age of 31,” she said. 

Dr Norzila has great admiration for parents, especially mothers. They would selflessly give up their jobs and sacrifice themselves to care for their child who needs to stay in the hospital for prolonged periods. In all her years in medicine, she has never seen a parent neglect their child. 

“I believe that a patient must have trust when they come to see me. Only then we can have an open communication. Every patient who has come to see me have given me memorable moments. It is gratifying when your patients become well and even if you can’t cure them, it is fulfilling to be able to support them,” she said. 

Dr Norzila with her Paediatric Respiratory fraternity (middle)