By Lee Man Xin, Class of 2016
Q: Introduce your name, course of study and what you did in your undergraduate studies.
A: Hey there! My name is Lee Man Xin and I am a first year medical student here at Duke-NUS’s MD program. I graduated with a B.Sc. in Biomedical Science from Nayang Technological University, here in Singapore.
Q: What inspired you to embark on a career in medicine?
A: Medicine has always been a part of my life. My mother works as a nurse and she has been an inspiring figure – it is hard not to when as a child you witness her helping strangers in need. My clinical attachment and translational research experience at the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) further cemented by decision and before long I sat for the MCAT and here I am.
During my third year undergrad I had the opportunity to work with Dr Louis Tong and his team at SERI and that cemented my interest in medicine as a career.
Q: Tell us more about a day in the life as a first year medical student.
A: It is 7:30 in the morning. I’m running on a threadmill in the SGH gym for the past 20 minutes and I am about to drop. Soon I will be heading to the showers next to the gym to wash up, and before long I will land myself a tasty bite of Narambi’s (the cafeteria in Duke-NUS) red bean bun for breakfast.
SGH staff gym is pretty well equipped and is free for Duke-NUS students to use!
There is still a bit of material left to revise before the quizzes come and I have to hurry before class starts at 9am. By class I actually meant the quiz itself. The peculiar thing about Duke-NUS is that most of the time you spend in school would be centred on Before Module Quizzes (BMQs), Individual and Group Readiness Assessment (IRAs and GRAs) as well as the famed TeamLEAD application exercise. Lectures are mostly presented on hard disks that are pre-recorded in Durham and you have to go through them at your own time; playing them on 2x speed really helps save time!
The calm before the storm – once the clock strikes 9am, the timer starts.
But do not be mistaken, practicing clinicians still provide didactics to supplement clinical correlations. The experiences the faculty members bring in is crucial to your understanding of some of the most abstract concepts in medicine. For example, ultrasound imaging used to be an abstract art of many shades of grey, but now has turned into a valuable diagnostic tool in answering many questions in disease condition.
Dr Reginald Liew and a medical technologist from National Heart Centre Singapore explain the use of ultrasound imaging in diagnosing valvular heart disease.
In some courses, we will be having more hands on lab sessions. These lab sessions can be as simple as slapping ECG leads on each other, to the more complicated anatomical dissection in the clinical skills lab. Cadaveric dissection is probably one of the highlights for the year 1 medical student in Duke-NUS. It is presented by means of actual surgical procedures rather than the standard dissection method employed by anatomist, so the learning is very applicable and at the same time comprehensive.
For lunch breaks, depending on how much one wishes to travel, the Outram campus area has many hidden food paradises waiting to be discovered. But if it rains, there is always the cafeteria within Duke-NUS; on special days perhaps some pizza delivery.
Beef brisket from a nearby Chinese restaurant
Narambi – Lunch cafteria at Duke-NUS, prices are cheap, but you better get there before 1.30pm – there will be very little dishes left there after.
Sarpinos after a gruelling week of RAs.
After class ends at around 5pm, most of us would be travelling home. I prefer the environment in school so I usually stay behind to study. Various rooms are available for self-study and anatomical models are readily available for students to use.
Some of my favourite models at… work?
Q: Describe how the Practice Course sessions have helped you to learn the basic clinical skills of a doctor.
A: Practice course sessions are held on Wednesdays. Before each session we will need to go through a number of materials to prepare for it. These include readings related to the session itself and even high definition videos that are painstakingly produced by the faculty starring professional actors and doctors.
For medical interviews, we are split into groups of three and each of us will be assigned to a different case. The standardized patients (SP) whom we will be interviewing have been rigorously trained to interact with us. They are so good at bringing out their emotions that you forget that they are trained actors and you start treating them like real patients. I remembered once, I made one of my standardized patient cry, and I really had to bring out my empathy skills and provide comfort and reassurance to her. At the end of the interview session, there will be a short debrief by the tutor, the SP and my group mates. During this part of the session we actively comment on each other’s performance – What went well? What could be done better? In a way it helps both the interviewer and the observer learn something from each case and thus, everybody benefits.
When learning clinical examination, during each practice course session we will be split in groups of 6 and we will take turns practicing on each other under the guidance of a tutor. The tutor is really helpful especially in showing you little tricks of the trade. My group members are also excellent in giving feedback and telling me ways to improve.
It is always a pleasure to volunteer as the patient while your peers practice to their heart’s content. I learn how the patient feels while my friends improve their technique.
Q: You’ve just ended the Normal Body Course, which is known to be one of the more stressful/“heavier content” modules. Tell us more about how you’ve managed to balance your time between school work and play.
If anyone said medical school isn’t stressful, they are probably lying…
A: I remember hearing from one of the faculty during my applicant day that work life balance is an abstract concept in the life of a clinician; Normal Body Course gave a glimpse into that. It is not surprising because each week you have a set of reading materials to go over, and this may mean on average about 200 pages to go through each weekend.
A snap shot of the amount of material covered in Normal Body… a 12 week course!
I suppose when it comes down to it, managing work life balance is really about managing expectations. Of course I cannot expect not having a bit of fun during Normal Body; I will end up with an abnormal body (and mind)!
So, to make more time for studying during the busy days I would just be contented with the little things like playing with the anatomical models or working out in the gym. Of course, there are moments when I find time to really let go of myself, for example, after the second integrated exam, some of us went down to the Singapore Gun Club to try out trap shooting! It was a lot of fun, though if it was an RA, I probably failed with 16 out of 25 hits!
Redefining medical school gunners the shotgun way.
Q: Any useful tips or advice that you have for prospective students?
A: Besides doing well academically in both undergraduate studies and the MCAT, I think it is a good idea to start exploring the medical field before you embark on this lifelong journey in Medicine. Do translational research! Volunteer! Shadow your general practitioner! More than a ticket to medical school, these experiences actually give you a glimpse of how your career will be like once you graduate from medical school; at least in my case, I found that it was through my clinical attachment that it affirmed my belief that Medicine is truly my calling.
Just before entering the Operating Theatre to observe a cataract surgery! (This was before medical school)
It helps to have little reminders on why you start out on this journey in the first place, especially when the road ahead is full of obstacles. When the going gets tough, flip out that little note you wrote to yourself and press on. With much anticipation, I hope to see you as a future Duke-NUS student.