By Ku Chee Wai, Class of 2013
As a final year Duke-NUS medical student, how have you grown in the past 4 years?
A lot more white hair now for sure! Well fortunately for me my perception of the profession has not changed. We put in long hours and hard work, we strive to do our best for our patients and we hope to get them healthy enough to be discharged back home into the community. I have witnessed the choices, priorities and sacrifices it takes to be a doctor. I have also met many role models whom I wish to emulate when I become a senior doctor in many years to come. Being faced with a critically ill patient was a real challenge. The emotional roller coaster that the families go through and how the choice of words we say can make things better or worst adds to the challenge. I still remember I was rather distraught when my first patient passed on. It was a young child in a road traffic accident and that made it particularly difficult.
Also, good students will always summarize at the end. In summary, it has been a long journey that has just started. We are like young children who have just learnt how to walk. We have stumbled along the way and may yet continue to stumble. Thankfully I have met different people who has helped me up every time, and encouraged me to continue this meaningful journey.
Why did you decide to become a doctor? How does it feel now that you are just half a year away from officially becoming one?
I think all of us have our own reasons why we want to be a part of this noble profession. More importantly, there are times when I asked myself how much more am I willing to give up to continue this journey. That usually happens a few days before our crazy 9 hour USMLE exams. The answer for me is quite simple. I hope to be able to use my knowledge and skills to make a difference in the life of my patients. I have been a patient many times myself, and I cannot claim that I felt comforted by healthcare workers often, so I hope that my patients can go home feeling that someone truly cared for them. It is easier said than done of course, but it means a lot to me.
Amidst all the fatigue after long hours, it is important to remind ourselves why we are here. That keeps us going.
What aspects of school life was particularly memorable to you?
The first year was … busy but fun. Time passed by really quickly and there was quite a lot of ground to cover. Many of us had the second year clerkships in mind and we were quite motivated to be well prepared for it. The learning curve was steep. The good thing is that the class is relatively small, and we were quite closely bonded by a few events, most of it revolves around community service. We studied hard, but we sang and played even harder. If my team happens to read this, I really want to thank each and everyone of them for being such fantastic team mates, I wouldn’t have survived first year without them!
The second year was… tiring and emotionally challenging, but it was when I really felt like a doctor to my patients. We went through the different core rotations, like surgery, medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics and neurology. My exposure to the various specialties served to cement my interest and passion in obstetrics.
The third year was… exciting and fun! I spent about half a year in Women’s 24 hours Clinic in KKH recruiting patients for a study about biomarkers to predict the outcome of threatened miscarriage. I learnt a lot from the doctors and nurses in the clinic, and most of all my patients, who are facing a difficult time in the pregnancy, but yet willing to spend time talking to me and enrolling in the study. I still remember the time when a patient contacted me again to inform me that she is going back to the clinic as she has likely miscarried, and I went back in the middle to the night to see her in the clinic. She was obviously distraught, and sadly there was nothing much we could do for her medically. We could only try and explain the process, and hope that it will provide some sort of a closure for her.
We know you are very passionate about community service...
Haha indeed, I have always been keen to be a part of community service work.
It is our way of reaching out to the community and making a positive difference in their lives. I have been told many times that a medical student must be very busy and we have no time for family and friends, much less community service. However, as I mentioned earlier, life is all about priorities and choices. All of us have 24 hours a day, and it should not matter whether you are a baby who spends most of his time sleeping and drinking or a retiree who spends time gardening or attending to his other hobbies. My classmates in general are very enthusiastic about community service and we have actively participated in many projects.
In our first year, we started a Christmas Caroling initiative in St Joseph’s Hospice, Camp Simba, Project Karen, numerous health screening projects, both locally and abroad, etc. I think that these projects keep us sane, and reminds us why we are in medical school in the first place. Besides, community service projects can be really fun! I always enjoy planning or running the events, especially if it involves young kids or elderly folks.
What do you think of second chances?
I figure you are referring to people like me who was rejected by a “he who shall not be named” medical school before, and now I will be graduating from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School soon? Well for a start I won’t even consider that a second chance really.
To quote Steve Jobs “life is about connecting the dots”. Yes I am an Apple fan as you know. Connecting the dots in the sense that nothing happens in our life that we cannot learn from. When I was 18, not many years back (at least it feels that way), I was also very curious about scientific research. I spent much of my time pursuing very basic research work, and presented it in national-level competition and scientific conferences. I expressed my interest in being a clinician scientist, but the perception then was that you are either a good clinician or a good scientist, and you cannot be both. As a relatively naïve 18 year old, I did not believe that was true. I felt there was a real need for a group of clinicians who is able to communicate effectively with the scientists, and inspire innovations that are relevant to our patients and are able to impact them immediately, from bench to bedside. So I went to NTU thinking that I will be a competent scientist. I was fortunate to be mentored by a very inspirational young scientist, who gave me a lot of opportunities to grow as a scientist, to learn the ropes of scientific research. However, I felt restricted in the sense that the good research work that we are doing does not seem to be able to impact patients directly. It contributes to what we call basic science research, which is very important as well, but I was more interested in translational research.
And so here I am in Duke-NUS, hoping to embark on my journey as a clinician, and hopefully a scientist as well in due course. So in summary (yet again), it is the passion to serve that motivated me to apply for medical school again. Like I said earlier, all of us have a unique reason why we want to be a doctor. If you firmly believe in yours, then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The journey forward in the practice of medicine is not an easy one, and it merely starts in medical school. Do not deny yourself that chance just because a panel of wise men and women told you before that you are not up to it. You are who you make yourself up to be.
Just wondering, do you have a life outside school?
Of course I do! There is a reason why I was asked to cover the work-life balance session for the new class. For a start, I bought my PS3 during Normal Body, touted as the most difficult module in first year. Do I need to say more? Hahaha
We know you are a man of many quotes, so how would you like to end of this sharing?
I thought there are quite a few quotable quotes in this blog post already! Yes, like the “he who shall not be named” medical school? Not really.
“To cure sometimes, to heal often, to comfort always”
Doctors may not always be able to cure all his patients, but we can always strive to make a positive difference to our patients, and they will definitely be able to feel that we care. That smile in return is really all that we ask for.