Admissions Blog

A confident-looking young man in his medical scrubs stares confidently into the mirror, proud to be starting his medical career. Sauntering into the hospital, a busy nurse stops him and starts giving him orders. His blank stare was followed by this famous monologue...

“Four years of pre-med, four years of med school,
and tons of unpaid loans
have made me realize...I don't know jack.”

This iconic opening scene from the popular television comedy series, “Scrubs” is hilarious but accurately sums up the emotions of a first-year medical intern.

My first day was a nightmare. I was the Solo House Officer1 attached to a busy surgical team with 30 patients, a much higher ratio than normal. A Solo House Officer is a tragically ironic name since “solo” conveys that you are independent and in control, however the reality is overwhelmingly the opposite. You are saddled with so many responsibilities and work that your primary function of stepping out of the hospital is to nap and shower so that you don’t spread head lice to your colleagues. Looking back, it’s a miracle I survived those days.

During my first week, one of my patients had a Code Blue2 and nurses were frantically running and shouting repeatedly “Where is the HO (short for House Officer)? “Oh that’s me!” I said hesitantly. Upon arrival we hurriedly set lines and performed Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). In line with my training, I calmly stood at the bedside, announced I was the doctor in charge, assigned the nurses to specific roles and conducted the resuscitation smoothly. In reality, I stared blankly at a cacophony of nurses shouting orders efficiently.

Intern year is challenging and so frustrating that sometimes you want to fall on your knees and shake your fists at the heavens. Still, you can survive and here’s how you can do it:


The strange thing about medicine is, while there are nurses with 20-30 years of experience, a seven-day-old HO is still responsible for the patients. This realization ought to calm you down, take away your insecurities and compel you right into making wise life-saving decisions.  If you ever wondered why leadership qualities weigh so heavily in medical school applications, its situations like this that will help you understand why selecting people who can focus and make decisions despite incomplete information is critical.

The ability to prioritize and focus can ease the daily pressures. It also ensures you get to go home at a normal hour which is highly important.

 Ask for Help

Help is readily available and all you need to do is ask - even for something small like an iPhone cable.

In complex cases, don’t be a hero but always check with your seniors. They will understand even if you have to ask a really basic question. You will actually gain deeply from such experiences.

Nurses and other healthcare staff are your best allies and help make work easier.  They provide tips to work more efficiently and will even help to pack lunch (if they notice that you have been skipping lunch). They are often your champions too! Once my boss got really upset and reprimanded me. One of the nurses, who knew about the difficulties of my situation, defended me! It was the most touching moment for me while working in the wards.  So remember to maintain great relationships at work and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help!

 The amazing staff of Singapore General  Hospital's Ward 47  who helped me (front row, extreme right)

The amazing staff of Singapore General  Hospital's Ward 47  who helped me (front row, extreme right) through my toughest posting

 Make Time for yourself

With all this stress, having a life outside of work is incredibly important for recharging and de-stressing. While crashing into bed or staring blankly at the television may be some of the most convenient remedies, it is also helpful to have other activities.

For me, my church band gives me an avenue to serve and share my passions as well as life’s ups and downs with friends. It’s another outlet for you to help others (or torture them if you’re not particularly gifted). I also enjoy tennis with close friends. Friendly competition makes laughing at each other's court shenanigans possible.

Tennis therapy with close friends!

Lastly, consider investing your time in community service. I recently worked with a group of medical students to start the Inaugural Pediatric Brain Tumor Awareness Day with the help of Dr. David Low from the Brain Tumor Society Singapore.

We arranged for the survivors to ride in Lamborghinis. And as they growled into the KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital (KKH) driveway, it was poignant to see the excitement and joy flashing across the faces of both patients and families. Being able to create something and see it grow and benefit patients in a totally different way can keep you really fresh and motivated.

pediatric brain tumour awareness

Duke-NUS' medical students from different classes working together for a good cause!


This fleet of Lamborghinis caused quite a stir with the children and their families on the Pediatric Brain Tumor Awareness Day at KKH.

Intern year can be quite a challenge but you can definitely overcome it! In medicine, learning is a continuous journey and we should make the best out of it.

 By Dr Joshua Chua, Class of 2014


1Solo House Officer is a term that refers to the only intern on duty.

2Code Blue generally refers to a patient requiring resuscitation or in need of immediate medical attention, most often as the result of a respiratory arrest or cardiac arrest.

Reposted from The Insider, Dec Issue