ADMISSIONS BLOG

Admissions Blog

Hello there. Allow me to introduce myself. My name’s Brian Chan. I’m a Singaporean and physician-in-training with the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore MD programme. My college days were spent roaming around the Faculty of Science at the National University of Singapore, where I chanced upon a BSc (Hons) in Life Sciences.

Having a coffee break with my friends Kian Leong (left) and Mei Xing (right). I'm the one in the middle.

There was never a single moment which I could look back on and say, “Ah ha! This is when I decided to become a physician.” Instead, the decision occurred gradually. Having enjoyed science and community service as a high school student, medicine seemed like a natural progression. Aside from being a prestigious, respected and secure vocation, medicine would allow me to complete my understanding of biology and express the love I was raised with. Parental influence played a huge role as well, accompanying my mother as she saw patients at the clinic and ogling at the laboratory paraphernalia in my father’s laboratory. These were the fond memories and the foundation upon which I would build my passion for medical science and deep down, I knew that I wanted to be like them. It was a combination of all these factors which made my failure to secure a place in the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at 19 excruciatingly painful. I was forced to step back, reflect and inevitably question the logic behind my childhood dream. Why medicine? Coincidentally, there had been word about a new US-style medical school opening its doors the following year in 2007. So I set my heart on applying there.

We made it! Here's my team at our White Coat Ceremony in 2013.

Applying to medical school is itself a long and arduous journey. One needs to understand how the system works. Looking back, there are many things about applying that I wish I had known earlier. Thus I would like to share some useful pieces of information with the prospective applicants out there.

1. Academic transcript

Do well in school because there is no true substitute for academic excellence. Many schools of medicine do adopt a holistic review process that is individualised to each applicant. However, at the end of the day, their main concern is whether a student can survive the programme. Outstanding grades are reflective of an applicant’s ability to engage in the rigours of a fast-paced medical education.

2. Standardised examinations

Standardised assessments such as the MCAT, BMAT, UKCAT and GAMSAT are significant components of some medical school applications. Regardless of the examination, invest about two to three months of intense preparation and sit for it as early as possible. This way there’ll be time to retake if you want to obtain a higher score. At Duke-NUS, we look at the MCAT. Based on the previous iteration, MCAT scores over 30 are viewed more favourably, as some studies have shown a score above the low-30 range to be more positively correlated with certain indicators of success in medical school. Nevertheless, scores below 30, when complemented by other academic, co-curricular and personal strengths are by no means prohibitive of a successful application or medical career. This is because a number of attributes are essential components of a physician’s makeup. As of 2015, the MCAT has been revamped. We will be providing more information in time to come. Meanwhile, to get a flavour of the new format, check out the Duke-NUS website https://www.duke-nus.edu.sg/admissions/about-mcat and AAMC https://www.aamc.org/students/applying/mcat/.

3. Letters of recommendation

Seek out your referees as early as possible, ideally those who can be as personal as possible. Relationships take time to build so invest in them early. Ensure that your referees are able to testify about your character, work ethic, clinical exposure, research involvement, passion for medicine and other relevant areas.

4. Early application

Duke-NUS has a rolling admissions process that begins in May. The early and regular admissions deadlines are 1 September and 1 December respectively. The earlier one applies the more spaces there are to fill. Applying early (and hopefully receiving an offer early) also helps put you at ease. You don’t have to stress over it and your time is freed to spend in whatever way you choose. However, do not compromise on the quality of your application for an earlier submission.

5. Portfolio

Work experience, clinical attachments, scholarly investigations, community volunteerism, hobbies and other co-curricular activities tell a story that is unique to you. So capitalise on that. Make sure that you are familiar with the realities of the medical profession and not just attracted to the thought of being a physician. Do not view this as resume-padding but rather as demonstrating a genuine and valiant effort to understand your own motivations for studying medicine. Medicine is so much more than a career. It is about passion and a way of life.

6. Application essays

It is important to get your essays proof-read by faculty, physicians, medical students or other people familiar with the admissions process. Keep it short and to the point, with a clear indication of what you, as an applicant, have learnt from these experiences. It’s about showing, not telling, and not just what you say, but how you say it. Remember there is only one chance to ruin a first impression.

7. Interviews

If you do get called for interviews, breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t let your guard down. You still need to prepare for them. Ensure that you can discuss every area of your application and articulate your reasons for wanting to do medicine. Look through typical interview questions. Know about the school and come prepared with questions. But above and beyond, be as relaxed and friendly as possible. The interviewers already know your stats. Now they want to know you as person. I hope that I’ve been able to lend some perspective, inspiration and encouragement. Best of luck. Remember, it’s never too late to answer a calling.

By Brian Chan, Class of 2017

Brian Chan is second year candidate in the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore MD programme and President of the Class of 2017. This commentary is contributed in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at brian.chan@u.duke.nus.edu.

References

1. Getting into Medical School by David Steinhardt. The Student Doctor Network. Accessed April 2015

2. https://www.duke-nus.edu.sg/admissions/requirements-duke-nus-programs. Accessed April 2015