She's a diver-doctor in NDU

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20 Dec 2022 | PEOPLE

She's a diver-doctor in NDU

She is the first Singaporean woman to undergo the gruelling US Navy Diving Medical Officers' Course. Meet CPT (Dr) Chiew Wenqi, the formation medical officer of the Naval Diving Unit (NDU). Here's five things you need to know about her:

// Story by Koh Eng Beng

// Photos by Kenneth Lin & courtesy of CPT (Dr) Chiew Wenqi

CPT (Dr) Chiew goes through dive training to better understand the challenges that naval divers go through.

1. She is fascinated with special forces

Since young, Captain (CPT) (Dr) Chiew had always been interested in the military – especially the elite special forces who conduct exciting operations such as parachuting out of a plane and diving into the sea.

So it's not surprising that she chose a military career with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Then-Recruit Chiew (foreground, centre) with her Basic Military Training (BMT) buddies in 2015.

2. She is a doctor

A recipient of the SAF Medicine Scholarship, CPT (Dr) Chiew obtained her medical degree from National University of Singapore.

Now as the formation medical officer in NDU, the 27-year-old treats illnesses and injuries associated with diving. An example is decompression sickness, which occurs when a diver swims to the surface too quickly.

CPT (Dr) Chiew checking on a patient in a hyperbaric chamber, which simulates the pressure of varying depths below sea level, in Sembawang Camp.
CPT (Dr) Chiew (second from right) did her housemanship at Sengkang General Hospital in 2020.

3. She is sporty and fit

Back in her school days in Raffles Institution (RI), she was part of the soccer and taekwondo teams. She was also a recreational scuba diver.

For the record, CPT (Dr) Chiew scored 97 points for her latest Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) – 60 push-ups, 60 sit-ups, and 11min 30s for 2.4km run.

CPT (Dr) Chiew (second row, sixth from left) was the goalkeeper of the RI female football team that won the National Inter-School Girls Football Championship A Division in 2012.

4. First SG woman to attend the USN DMOC

The highlight of her military career so far? Attending the United States Navy (USN) Diving Medical Officer Course (DMOC) in Florida from July to October this year.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) sends one or two medical officers to attend the DMOC annually. CPT (Dr) Chiew was the first woman from the RSN to do so.

The physically demanding course, including a five-week preparatory phase, stretched over three-and-a-half months.

DMOC trainees doing beach exercises.

Trainees were put through daily physical exercises that consisted of runs of up to 10km, as well as pool training such as water treading and breath holding.

For one particular training, CPT (Dr) Chiew had to tread water for two minutes, while carrying scuba tanks that weighed about 40kg — more than twice her body weight!

"It was very physically challenging," said CPT (Dr) Chiew, who is 1.63m tall and weighs 50kg.

CPT (Dr) Chiew (foreground) undergoing dive training during the DMOC.
Getting ready for a surface-supplied dive in which breathing gas is supplied from the surface. CPT (Dr) Chiew (second from right) is wearing a diving helmet that weighs about a third of her body weight.
With fellow RSN medical officer CPT (Dr) Gong Haoran (right) at the DMOC.

She also learnt to use the closed circuit rebreathing systems used by the US Navy SEAL and Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams. These are similar to the ones used by divers in NDU.

The various dive training, she said, allowed her to better understand the physical and mental challenges that divers go through underwater.

"When they have injuries or when they present with symptoms, I can understand their dive profile better and what they have done. So this helps me to make a better diagnosis and treatment for them."

During the DMOC, she also received hands-on practice in using the hyperbaric chamber as well as extensive training in diving medicine.

The hyperbaric chamber pressurises the air to mimic the underwater environment, and is used in the treatment of diving injuries.

CPT (Dr) Chiew hopes to inspire more women to join the Navy.

5. She wants to inspire more women to join the Navy

CPT (Dr) Chiew said women who want to join the military need to have a certain level of physical fitness and resilience in order to get through the challenging training in the SAF.

When asked what advice she would offer them, she said: "If you are keen to join the NDU or Navy as a medical officer, take a leap of faith. This career choice will be an extraordinary and exciting one!"

Watch CPT (Dr) Chiew in action in this video:

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