Outstanding Scholastic Achievement

Professor Dato' Goh Khean Lee's achievements in Gastroenterology and Hepatology have had a deep and lasting impact in Malaysia and, also Internationally.
Professor Dr Harith Ahmad
Member of the Nomination Committee
Outstanding Scholastic Achievement


Professor Dato' Goh was born on 15 July 1956 in Penang. His father was a government officer in the Inland Revenue Department and his mother, a schoolteacher. He spent the first five years of his life in Penang before the family moved to Ipoh where he studied at St Michael's Institution. His father was later posted to Kuala Lumpur and Professor Dato' Goh studied at La Salle Brickfields before continuing his secondary education at St John's Institution.

A bright boy, he did well at school and was accepted into University of Malaya's medical school. "In those days there was only one medical school, University of Malaya. To get into UM was a big achievement," he says.

He read for a Bachelors Degree of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Malaya between the years 1975 and 1980.

In 1984, he began his career as a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, and rose through the ranks to become Professor of Medicine in 1998. While working at the University Hospital, he pursued his higher professional specialist degree obtaining his MRCP (UK) qualification in 1984.

Professor Dato' Goh has spent training stints at the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow in 1987 and at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, in 1991.

Finding that good clinical practice required good clinical research, Professor Dato' Goh began publishing papers on gastroenterology and internal medicine. As a senior fellow in Gastroenterology and Advanced Therapeutic Gastrointestinal Endoscopy in Amsterdam, he studied advanced therapeutic endoscopic biliary and pancreatic work acquiring valuable experience in the field. "The professor there suggested that I do a thesis on Helicobacter pylori, the germ that causes ulcers, which was what I did, earning my doctoral degree," he says.

Professor Goh obtained his doctorate Doctor of Medicine (Mal) in 1997 and is one of few Malaysians in the medical field with a doctoral degree.

Inspired by the excellent clinical and research work that was going on in Amsterdam, Professor Dato' Goh began transforming the sub-specialisation into a recognised unit back home in Malaysia.

"The experience in Amsterdam was an eye-opener and indeed they were ahead of their time. When I came back, the Deputy Director of University Hospital, also agreed that we needed to formalise and develop a top-class gastrointestinal endoscopy unit and so we did, building it to what it is today," he says.

As the Head of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and the Gastrointestinal Endoscopy unit at the University of Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), Professor Dato' Goh established the division and unit as one of the best in the country with an excellent international reputation.

"We started off doing endoscopy in a surgical, minor operating theatre before moving into the current space at UMMC in the mid 1990s. The use of scopes enhances the discipline so we shared this very much with surgeons. Surgeons being surgeons, they spent more time operating so they left a lot of the endoscopy to non-surgeons. Endoscopy is a full fledged discipline so you spend your whole life doing it, almost," he adds.

The Unit was fittingly recognised by the World Digestive Endoscopy Organization which, after a stringent selection process awarded its prestigious "Centre of Excellence" award to the UMMC GI Endoscopy unit in June 2008.

The UMMC Endoscopy Unit is the only one in Malaysia and one of only four centres in Asia accorded this prestigious honour. The GI Endoscopy Unit at UMMC is now a highly sought after training centre both locally and internationally.

To unwind, Professor Dato' Goh reads history and enjoys playing tennis with his children. He says his family is his source of strength. Wife, Su Lin is a consultant ophthalmologist in private practice; and he feels that his daughters Li Yen (a third year medical student in the United Kingdom), Li Syuen and son, Li Han are growing up too fast.

Pioneering the discipline of gastroenterology and endoscopy as an established sub-specialty in Malaysia
A prolific writer and researcher, Professor Dato' Goh has published 196 peer reviewed full papers in international journals, seven book chapters, and 287 published abstracts to-date. He continues to publish consistently and was awarded the prize of "highest impact paper in a journal" by University of Malaya in 2008.

Professor Dato' Goh has the highest number of publications and citations in the biomedical field in Malaysia with papers in high impact journals such as the American Journal of Gastroenterology, Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and GUT.

His expertise is widely acknowledged internationally and he is globally known as an international authority and leader in gastroenterology and gastrointestinal endoscopy.

"Stimulation and interest in my work keeps me going," he says. Personable and modest, Professor Dato' Goh is well-liked and highly regarded by his patients and his peers in the medical fraternity.

He is currently the President of the Asia Pacific Association of Gastroenterology (APAGE). In May 2011, he was voted Vice President of the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO), the first Malaysian to be given such an honour.

He has spoken at numerous international meetings and served as an invited faculty member for various international endoscopy workshops and currently serves as Editor Emeritus of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. He also sits on the Editorial Board of seven international journals and has had stints as a visiting professor at the University of Arizona, USA (2004) and University of Magdeburg, Germany (2005).

His scientific contributions have earned him fellowships in a number of International medical colleges and societies including:

  • Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow
  • Royal College of Physicians, London
  • American College of Gastroenterology
  • American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • Hong Kong Society of Gastroenterology
  • Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy of India

Professor Goh's work credo has always been "honesty, hard work and humility." He believes that in the field of clinical medicine there is no alternative to hard work.

"In medicine you don't work smart. You always have to work hard. When you say you work smart, you're basically not working or you're riding on other people. I am very disdainful of that," he says.

As a teacher and mentor, a testimony to his work is the large number of his students who are now highly successful gastroenterologists in their own right, both locally and abroad.

Since 1993, the Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Unit at UMMC has been holding annual therapeutic endoscopy workshops and the Centre has gained wide international reputation and prestige. Cases are conducted and transmitted live to an audience who can interact with the physician performing the procedure. The Centre started accepting international trainees from 2005.

"The aim of these live workshops is to also bring in the top guns (invited faculty, leading experts and pioneers in the field) from overseas so that they can share with us and we learn from them. We run three working rooms with 500- 600 participants a year," he says.

The Centre treats almost 10,000 patients a year encompassing various forms of endoscopy work such as therapeutic, diagnostic, curative and palliative endoscopy.

Concluding Remarks

Professor Dato' Dr Goh has been instrumental in putting the nation on the map as a centre of excellence in the field of gastroenterology and hepatology that has benefited thousands while inspiring the younger generation to become better physicians.

His professional achievements have had a deep and lasting impact in Malaysia and, also, internationally. His dedication and passion has elevated the practice of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Malaysia to Global Standards and reflects the Merdeka Award's ideals of fostering a culture of excellence.

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