ADMISSIONS BLOG

Admissions Blog

On average, our students enter the MD programme at age 25, with just 5.5% of them already holding a PhD. Ong Lay See, 31, from the MD Class of 2021, took a path less travelled to medicine. Before joining the Duke-NUS MD programme, she completed a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Psychology, and a PhD degree in Psychology.

The path to medicine is seldom easy, and familial support can play a huge role in one's journey. Lay See was fortunate to have her parents' and husband's full support in her pursuit of medicine. At her white coat ceremony, we spoke to her family members to learn more about their perspectives.

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Lay See (4th from left) with her family

Admissions: How do you feel about your daughter pursuing Medicine now?

Lay See’s Mum: We are extremely happy and proud of her. We’ve never pressured her to study any particular subject as we’ve always believed in allowing our children freedom of choice. She did well at university and we’re very happy that she is now pursuing her deep interest in medicine and fulfilling her aspirations. Coming from a social science background, it was not easy for her and she had to sacrifice time to gain exposure in medically-related fields.

Katherine Nay Yaung, Entering class of 2016, MD-PhD

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with family

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

Before starting school at Duke-NUS, I graduated from NUS with a BSc (Honours) in Life Sciences (Specialisation in Biomedical Science). I started to toy with the idea of doing medicine in secondary school when I was first exposed to scientific research. Since then, I’ve dabbled in many areas such as microbiology, infectious diseases and neurobiology. Throughout the years, I’ve had many nurturing mentors and colleagues who have inspired me to continue pursuing research. Along the way, I had a few volunteering stints with various organizations, which piqued my interest in healthcare. I came to the realization that medicine would be a perfect blend of these various interests and I’m glad to be able to pursue it.

Have your medical interests changed since becoming a student at Duke-NUS?

Medical students in Duke-NUS Medical School have been taking charge of the learning of Singapore’s local lingo for a few years now. A student-run course called LINGO was started in 2014, where they learn health-related terms and phrases in languages and dialects that are commonly understood by patients in Singapore.

We interviewed Ivy Lau, a final year medical student who is a co-organiser of LINGO for this year.

Who runs LINGO?

Ivy: LINGO was initiated by some of our seniors and now alumni from the Class of 2015 – Dr Andrew Chou and Dr Petty Chen. The LINGO programme has been running for four years and this year’s course was organised by my classmates, Tan Yu Bin, Goh Kian Leong, and me. Each year, the project is handed over to the 3rd year class council.

Why was LINGO started?

Ivy: LINGO was started to improve communication in the wards so that Duke-NUS medical students, who will go on to become doctors, can better understand their patients’ conditions and ultimately improve health outcomes.

While there are interpreters in the ward to help with language barriers, they are not always available. Nurses try to help too but they are usually extremely busy with nursing tasks alone. As such, we try to be as self-sufficient as we can, by learning phrases in different languages, and learning from our peers who are better-versed in the languages we encounter.

How do you decide whether to sit for the MCAT or GAMSAT? These are two different tests that medical schools use in their admissions process. If you are applying to Duke-NUS Medical School, you have the option of taking either, as we accept both for applications to the MD and MD-PhD. Here are 10 things you should know before deciding on the MCAT or GAMSAT.

1. Both are standardized medical school entrance tests, except they are used predominantly in different regions of the world.

The MCAT is developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and used mainly by medical schools in the US and Canada, while the GAMSAT is developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in conjunction with the Consortium of Graduate Medical Schools and used mainly by graduate-entry medical schools in Australia, Ireland and the UK. Duke-NUS Medical School accepts both tests for applications to the MD and MD-PhD.

2. The MCAT is held more frequently throughout the year, and at more countries, compared to the GAMSAT.

You should start planning to sit for either of these tests at least a year before you intend to apply to medical school, as seats are limited.

Mengge Yu (PhD Entering 2016 Class)

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Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I graduated from the 7-year programme of Capital Medical University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Medicine (MBBS) and Master of Medicine (MMed) in Clinical Medicine (Paediatrics). Following my internship in Beijing Xuan Wu Hospital, I came to work with my thesis mentor, Prof. Zheng Huyong, on the immune reconstitution after chemotherapy for paediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), during a 2-year residency in Beijing Children’s Hospital. While working at the bedside of patients, I recognized the current limitations of medical care and saw the urgent need for a change in therapeutic strategies. I realized that this change could only be achieved through medical research, which is why I decided to pursue a PhD at Duke-NUS Medical School, in order to formally train myself to contribute to change.

How did you come to know about Duke-NUS?

I heard about Duke-NUS from my high-school friends who were studying in Singapore at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University when we were talking about graduate schools.

Did you consider applying to other PhD programmes? How did you eventually decide on Duke-NUS?

The writer, Tan Chin Yee, is an MD-PhD candidate who joined Duke-NUS Medical School in 2015. He completed his first 2 years in the MD programme and is about to begin his PhD research abroad, in Duke University, Durham, NC.

I’d like to start off, perhaps disappointingly, by saying that there is no correct way to write a personal statement. In preparing for medical school and graduate school applications, I’ve consulted online resources [1, 2, 3] which provide guiding questions and even dos and don’ts of writing personal statements. I’ve also glanced through books of compiled personal statements (all scrutinized and allocated grades by an expert panel, mind you). To some extent, these resources are useful if you are just getting started. You might need a rough idea of the morphology and style of a personal statement, and these serve as useful starting material to help get your creative process going. However, be mindful that they are at best adjuvants. Remember that the personal statement is supposed to be personal, hence the mission here is to tell, in a matter of 1-2 pages and in your own words, your story from aspiration to application.

Amelia Koe (MD Class of 2018)

Amelia is the poster girl in our widely used 'Inspiring Hope, Impacting Lives' poster that you may have seen on our brochures and flyers

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

In 2004, I decided to spend a few years in The University of Melbourne, Australia, pursuing Bachelor of Biomedical Science. During this time, I did research in a neuroscience laboratory at the Department of Medicine, Royal Melbourne Hospital. Inspired by research and my keen interest in behavioural neuroscience, I ended up spending more than a few years in Melbourne, continuing on to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience. I spent four years in translational research, investigating the mechanisms by which early life stress increases the vulnerability to developing epilepsy in adulthood. My research was conducted in rodent models of human conditions, and while contributing to the field of science, I often yearned to understand these conditions first hand in the human population and to see science in medicine with my own eyes. Nearing graduation, I decided that a medical degree was something I wanted to embark on next. I applied right after graduation, entering Duke-NUS a year later in 2014.

What made you apply to Duke-NUS?

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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