By: Muhamad Zulhakim, MD Class of 2018

What does it mean to have a calling? When I was six years old, I dreamt about taking to the skies as a pilot after putting together a plane model. Four years later, becoming a scientist seemed like a great idea although I never really understood what a scientist did.

At 16, I was certain I belonged in the film industry after trying my hand at producing a short film. That was it - I shall produce a blockbuster! I never thought of being a doctor.

Then at 18 years old, I took a leap of faith and applied to read Pharmacy in university. I realised that I enjoy the science behind the production of medicine. So instead of producing a blockbuster film, naybe I can play a part in producing the next blockbuster drug.

L-R: Zulhakim at 6, and at 18 years old (amy training started early)

Zulhakim (2nd from right in both photos) with his friends from the theatre

Indeed, Pharmacy Education has been a privilege for me.  The clinical exposure I gained from its formal curriculum and the informal patient encounters I experienced through volunteering, helped crystalise my niche in society. Gradually, I strengthened my resolve and decided on the skill set I wanted most to mould and sharpen. I witnessed for the first time near graduation how the seemingly disparate nuggets of knowledge I gleaned every semester, fell beautifully into place in the development of drugs from bench to bedside. If anything, this appreciation greatly humbled me. 

Zulhakim (back row, 3rd from left) and classmates from the
Pharmacy department, National University of Singapore (NUS) 

I was also privileged to be a part of the College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT), the third of four residential colleges in NUS. One of the modules offered, ‘Capstone Experience’, required students to form partnerships with organisations for a project related to community engagement. It was here that I was first introduced to the field of Public Health, through an inspiring lecture delivered by Associate Professor Adeline Seow. This overarching view on healthcare fascinated me, for I had, hitherto, been focusing on cells and molecules and the health management of individuals. If only I had the opportunity to see how these seemingly disparate micro systems can be connected in the grand scheme of things. I then realised I could bridge this gap by training as an MD.

Zulhakim and company from the College of Alice & Peter Tan

My decision to continue studying was far from easy. I was eager to embark on my career after years of education yet I knew I would never cease to wonder about the possibilities in medical care.

While the financial burden constantly weighed heavily in the background, I chose to pursue medicine for two reasons, namely to be equipped to provide personalised care to individuals and to be a leader in healthcare delivery for the people.

They say that hindsight is 20/20, but it is a herculean task to maintain this acuity in the face of the challenges medical school brought forth. Motivation alone does not guarantee success. It is far more important to have discipline, for discipline breeds productivity, which can then be a source of motivation.

Each of us is the sum of our skills and how we give back to society determines the role we play. The fundamentals are the same whether you are a pilot, scientist, film producer or special education teacher, so assessing your willingness to sharpen a particular skill set is a good place to start.

As for myself, I still sometimes dream of being at the helm of an Airbus. But when I wake up, it is learning how to care for my future patients that I look forward to.

Also in this issue:

A Passion for Medicine and Beyond
Building Duke-NUS
Know your colleagues Goh Sok Hong and Francis Law
Growing with Duke-NUS
Staff Snapshots