Admissions Blog

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. 

chin chuen sea games

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.

I first picked up the sport during my first year in junior college. Back then, I joined because I simply wanted to keep fit. I had chosen canoeing over kayaking because a few weeks into my orientation programme, I was put into a push-up position by the kayak coach when I couldn’t decide the craft that I want to focus on. Right then, I decided that I was perhaps better off training under the canoe coach!

What is your training schedule like? Has it changed since you started medical school?

CC: A typical training schedule involves 10 sessions a week, approximately two training sessions per day, leaving Sunday as a rest day. Each session usually lasts between two to three hours. However, now that I have started medical school, it has become extremely challenging for me to train as I did before. My coach understands, and tries to cater to my availability. I try as far as possible to train with the national team on Saturdays and Sundays. I also spend my lunch breaks in between lessons to run or lift weights at the SGH gym.

What competitions have you participated in?

CC: Aside from the national championships that are held annually, I have competed in a few international and regional races. They include the 2013 Summer Universiade, 2014 USA-CK Sprint National Championships, 2015 SEA Games and 2016 ASEAN University Games.

asean university games

Chin Chuen competing in the 2016 ASEAN University Games

What would you say was the most memorable moment of all the competitions you have participated in?

CC: Winning the silver medal at the 2015 SEA games represents the most humbling experience in my sports career. I can clearly remember the intense moment of excitement and the subsequent sense of anguish after realising that my competitor’s boat had tipped across the finish line earlier in just a fraction of a second. The difference was merely 0.052 seconds but that was enough to snatch the gold medal away. It was devastating to know that despite the intense preparation, it eventually came down to such a minute difference that separated the gold and the silver. While my podium finish was still a success, the heartbreak that accompanied it continues to spur me on to train much harder than before.

Has it been challenging to play competitive sports while pursuing your studies?

CC: For a long time now, I have been juggling sports and my studies. There were multiple occasions that questioned my resolve, but I have come to accept my lifestyle and embrace every “struggle” as a way to help me strengthen my conviction and improve myself as a person and athlete.

Does your canoeing training complement your medical training in any way?

CC: Canoeing has taught me a great deal about perseverance and consistency. Although I am only three months into my medical training, I found that these are two essential qualities that have enabled me to endure the rigour of the programme thus far.

What made you apply to Duke-NUS? Was it always your goal to pursue medicine?

CC: I always enjoyed science and my undergraduate days as a Life Science major exposed me to medical applications of the advancements in science. I found myself becoming fascinated with the idea of pushing the limits of our knowledge in medicine. That motivated me to apply to Duke-NUS where I could train as a clinician in a research-intensive environment.

Still want to know more? Contact Chin Chuen at