ADMISSIONS BLOG

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Clinicians of the future will not only need to practice medicine, but also play a role in improving the practice of medicine. As a graduate-entry medical school, Duke-NUS trains clinicians who come to medical school with a foundation in an undergraduate discipline such as science, engineering and social sciences. This adds valuable diversity into medical practice in Singapore, and introduces fresh perspectives on overcoming challenges in healthcare.

Second year Duke-NUS medical student, Sabina Sayeed, is one example of a future clinician who is a keen educator. Even before joining Duke-NUS, Sabina took up numerous teaching and advisory positions at her alma mater, Wellesley College, where she mentored peers in her residential hall, provided career advice to other students, and served as a supplemental instructor in an introductory biology course. Outside of school, she also participated in community health initiatives at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, and the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. We interview her to learn more.

Tell us about your background. What led you to pursue Medicine? 

I studied Biochemistry as an undergraduate at Wellesley College, and did my Master’s at the Boston University School of Medicine. I spent many wonderful years in Boston solidifying my interest in science and research, and was fortunate to have worked with excellent mentors during my time conducting basic science work at the Boston Children’s Hospital, and later while pursuing clinical research at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

While I thoroughly enjoyed my scientific pursuits, I yearned to use my knowledge to have a direct impact on people. A key experience during my undergraduate years prompted me to consider medicine as means through which I could serve and make a difference. At the end of my second year in college, I was selected to participate in the Lumpkin Summer Institute for Service Learning. Through this program, I worked at a day shelter that provided basic healthcare and rehabilitative services to the poor and homeless in Boston, and I got to partake in seminars aimed at integrating my field experiences with an academic understanding of social change and development.

My time in this program was deeply humbling and meaningful. It made me appreciate the compassion that was required while working with those on the fringes of society, and helped me understand how inextricably linked science, healthcare, and a person’s immediate environment were. I was moved by the stories that I heard here and was inspired by how the clinic’s physicians listened to and cared for their patients. This served as the impetus for my decision to pursue medicine, as I realized that it would be an ideal bridge between my scientific and humanitarian aspirations.

You’ve done quite a substantial amount of advising, mentoring, and teaching at your alma mater, Wellesley College. Do you actively seek out roles that allow you to contribute?

I have always been naturally drawn to and interested in advising, mentoring and teaching. Each individual that you teach and mentor comes to you with different strengths and weaknesses. It takes trust and openness to uncover an individual’s educational, career, and personal aspirations, and to then figure out how to best help them achieve those goals.

I find this process of discovery, brainstorming, and implementation immensely satisfying. It is humbling to speak with my peers about the struggles they are facing, and to be able to help them connect with resources that they could benefit from. I grow and learn from these interactions, as through them I get to reflect on my own journey, and distill my experiences into actionable knowledge for my peers.

Is there any particular area that you feel strongly about?

During my undergraduate years, I had the honor of serving as a peer health educator with a focus on sexual health. I was trained to counsel my peers on an individual basis and to also aid in planning campus wide events that promoted health and wellness.

Through this role, I realized how challenging it can be to have an open and honest conversation about sensitive issues, and the critical role that education and advocacy play in promoting health. These realizations prompted me to serve as a hotline volunteer at the AIDS Action Committee (AAC) of Massachusetts.

I was trained by the AAC to provide support and information to individuals who called the anonymous HIV/AIDS and STD hotline from all over the US and the world. I spoke with men and women of all ages and backgrounds with call times ranging from a few minutes, to sometimes up to a full hour. Callers were often anxious, emotional and unnerved. Most of these conversations would involve my offering reassurance and educating each caller about the options available to them. This experience also taught me that beyond the facts and statistics that I could provide to each caller, there was great value in simply listening and serving as an advocate for them.

How did you discover your interest in education?

In my second year at Wellesley College, I was invited to serve as a supplemental instructor (SI) for an introductory biology course. The SI program is based on a model of peer – facilitated teaching sessions, with the goal of helping students succeed in traditionally difficult academic courses.

As this was the first time that Wellesley was implementing the SI program, I had the opportunity to work with my professors to build it up from scratch. Prior to this, my experience in organizing such initiatives was limited, so working as an SI was an eye – opener. I experienced firsthand the amount of planning that goes into organizing each teaching session, and how difficult it can be to even write a good test question!

While there were many challenges that came up along the way, what emerged strongly from this experience was that I enjoyed teaching and motivating my peers. I’ve since sought to continually improve on these skills, and it is something that I hope to do more of as I go through medical school.

We hear that you organized lectures for the first year MD students to help them prepare for their ‘Normal Body’ course. How do you find the time to help your juniors and what keeps you going?

The Normal Body lecture series was originally initiated by one of my seniors, Tan Chin Yee, and my batch was the first to have these tutorials offered to us.

As a first-year medical student struggling to cope with the demands of this rigorous course, I remember being so grateful for the dedication that the senior students had in helping us. They would come down after their busy and tiring day on the wards to go over the basics of anatomy and physiology, and would stay long after the session ended to answer any questions that we had. I was touched by their willingness to teach us and knew that I wanted to help the next batch of students in a similar fashion.

This year, with the help of three of my colleagues, I worked on organizing a similar set of lectures for our juniors. The goals of the program were to help MS1s with developing a framework for approaching the modules covered in Normal Body, and to also provide them with peer support. Another goal of the program was to offer senior students the opportunity to develop their teaching and mentoring skills.

Truth be told, the success of the program lies entirely with the senior students who took it upon themselves to create helpful study material for their juniors. While time is always a constraint in medical school, the desire to help is not. It takes a little bit of dedication and enthusiasm, but in a small community such as ours, the importance of giving back cannot be understated.

clinician educator
Sabina (2nd from left) and her classmates who organize additional lectures for their juniors

What kind of clinician do you envision yourself as in the future? Do you see yourself being actively involved in education?

While I envision spending a good amount of my time as a clinician, I hope to concurrently pursue my interests in research and education as well. I find that one of the most wonderful things about being in medicine is that you can find your niche and contribute to a larger purpose in a way that aligns with your values and interests. I aspire to continue improving on the clinical, scientific and teaching skills that I have acquired, and to use them to improve medical practice and impact patient outcomes.

Want to know more? Contact Sabina at sabina.sayeed@u.duke.nus.edu