ADMISSIONS BLOG

Admissions Blog

Kwek Swee Sen (MD-PhD Entering 2012 Class)

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Swee Sen (center) with his classmates

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Microbiology and Immunology in 2011. While I was in UW-Madison, I spent 2.5 years in the lab of Professor Shannon Kenney, an Infectious Diseases doctor who also has a laboratory working on lytic reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus in associated malignancies. After graduation, I returned to Singapore and worked as a Research Officer in Singapore Immunology Network under Dr. Katja Fink, looking at B cell development and also the role of natural killer cells in Dengue virus infection. Inspired by clinician-scientists like Prof. Kenney, I applied to the MD-PhD program at Duke-NUS and joined the school in 2012.

How did you come to know about Duke-NUS and what made you apply?

Academic performance and other accomplishments presented in your CV are not the only things that matter when applying to medical school. Recommendation letters are a crucial part of your application, especially if your referees know you well professionally and are able to vouch for your character.

Upbeat interviewed two of our medical students who are also student file reviewers* to share their advice on what makes a good recommendation letter.

Student A graduated with a BSc in Pharmacy from National University of Singapore before joining our MD Class of 2018.
Student B graduated with a BSc in Biochemistry from Washington State University and an MSc in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University before joining our MD Class of 2017.

What makes a good recommendation letter?

Audrey Khoo (PhD Entering 2015 Class) 

audrey khoo phd duke-nus

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS

I graduated from the University of New South Wales in 2014, with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Music. During my time as an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work with the UNSW Regenerative Neuroscience Group and SMART Recovery Australia. These experiences gave an insight on how people carried out research to study how computer-based brain training might slow ageing, and also how available literature is used to improve current drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes. I worked with Professor Gavan McNally for my Honours thesis, studying the role of striatopallidal pathway in relapse and reacquisition of alcohol seeking. That was when I knew that I wanted to continue doing research in behavioural neuroscience. I continued working as an RA in Professor McNally’s lab for a while, until I left Sydney.

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Zhaohan (far left) and classmates from the Class of 2020

I'm Zhaohan, a first year student from the Duke-NUS Medical School. I'm also a trained and qualified lawyer of the Singapore Bar, having previously read law at the National University of Singapore. I applied to Duke-NUS in the knowledge that a life in medicine was for me, and like my peers, I've run the gamut of experiences to prepare myself for applying to medical school. Some of these experiences include work shadowing opportunities with physicians. If you'd like to know more about how best to make use of such opportunities, this article may be for you.

Why Work Shadowing?

Shadowing a doctor is a relatively simple means by which one finds out what it is like to be a doctor in medical practice, without actually being one. Although your mileage may vary, this can serve as a valuable experience to help you make an informed decision as to whether a life in medicine is for you. For graduate school applicants, shadowing a doctor can be especially useful for individuals whose educational backgrounds tend not to allow them the opportunity of doing work involving doctors in a care setting.

Read our interview with Wharton Chan, who joined Duke-NUS Medical School in 2016 as an MD-PhD candidate after graduating with a Master of Biochemistry from University of Oxford. 

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Wharton (2nd from left) with classmates at the SingHealth Hackathon 2017

How did you decide on pursuing an MD-PhD?

For many science graduates in Oxford, one thing always lurks at the back of the mind – should I do a PhD? Some dismiss this straight away, as lab work may not be the most enticing sort of career; but for many others, the Part II research experience provides a change in perspective, and may reassure thoughts of a research career. I fall into the latter group – it seemed that I was good at research, I enjoyed research, and it was ‘the right thing to do’.

Research in the Duke-NUS MD Programme:

I am Xue Ling, a born-and-bred Singaporean who did my undergraduate studies in Molecular Cell Biology and Economics at UC Berkeley. My four years in Berkeley were a huge eye-opener; it first exposed me to world-class research and passionate scientists and professors who were both knowledgeable in their fields, and dedicated to teaching. Fast forward to today, I am now a final year Duke-NUS student who just completed my research project on ultrasonography of the trigger finger.

As part of the Duke-NUS curriculum, our third year of medical school comprises 9 months of research that concludes with a thesis submission. These 9 months enable us to delve further into a scientific field we are interested in, and equip us with valuable skills for future research undertakings as doctors.

Choosing a research topic:

Most of my classmates and I chose research areas that were related to a specialty we were interested in. We also asked our seniors for advice on mentors and research topics, which ranged from mouse model work on signaling pathways in pancreatic cancer, to a comparison of imaging modalities on renal perfusion.

More about my research:

The most important question

Why do you want to be a doctor? Think about that question really hard because it’s going to come up for the rest of your life. It’s going to be on your application essays to medical school, on your interviews, on your dinner table with your parents; it’s going to be a question that you’re asked for the rest of your life from the moment you decide to enter medical school or even do an undergraduate pre-medical degree, as I did.

There is no one answer to this question and through the years, my answer changed drastically. I knew from the age of seven that I wanted to be a doctor and most of my life has been shaped by that decision. But it wasn’t until university that I finally figured out the true reason why I wanted to be a doctor.

Liwen Lee (MD Class of 2020)

At the Duke-NUS White Coat Ceremony in 2016 

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I studied at the University of Edinburgh for my undergraduate degree (in Medical Sciences) and graduated in the summer of 2016, a few weeks later I started my term in Duke-NUS!

So what got you interested in Medicine?

I was a part of St John Ambulance when I was in secondary school, where I not only learnt some medical knowledge but also the value of service. I realised I was super excited learning about the human body/medical conditions and I relished every opportunity given to me to serve as a First Aider. I knew then that I wanted to bring this one step further to pursue Medicine.

So how did you find out about Duke-NUS?

Mervyn Chan (MD-PhD Student)

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I was in the pioneer batch of my undergraduate course - Sport Science and Management which started in 2009. Exercise was my hobby and the thought of being able to learn more about a field I loved prompted me to join the course. It was there that I learnt about basic human anatomy, exercise physiology and biomechanics which provided a foundation for the first year of medical school curriculum. Not that I knew I was going to pursue medicine at that point in time. It was a great 4 years spent doing the things I loved. However, 4th year came and it was time to face reality again.

My final year in the course was when I really thought hard about what I wanted to do post-graduation. Did I want to go into sport science research? Did I want to pursue public health? Did I want to do something in allied health? It was during my 4th year internship stint at Health Promotion Board, where I spent 6 months learning about health policy and public health, when I knew I wanted to work in healthcare instead of elite sports.

First year medical student Tan Chin Chuen splits his time between medical school and rigorous training in his sport - canoeing. An oustanding sportsman, Chin Chuen won a silver medal at the 2015 SEA Games, where he and his teammate finished 2nd in the C2 200m canoeing finals. At the time of this post, we also learnt that Chin Chuen has just received the NUS President's Sports Award 2016. Congratulations Chin Chuen!

We interviewed Chin Chuen to find out more about his experience in sprint canoeing and how he came to join Duke-NUS Medical School. 

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Chin Chuen and his silver medal from the 2015 SEA Games

What is sprint canoeing and how did you get started in the sport?

CC: In sprint canoeing, paddlers compete on flatwater bodies in various distances - 200m, 500m and 1000m. The canoe is a light, narrow open boat that is propelled by one, two or four paddlers from a kneeling position. Unlike kayakers who use double-bladed paddles, we use a single-bladed paddle exclusively on one side of the boat. Hence, one of the biggest challenges I face competing is keeping straight within the lanes.

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