ADMISSIONS BLOG

Admissions Blog

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)

swee sen md-phd duke-nus
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.

Learn more and apply for the Duke-NUS Alumni Clinical Observership

zhaohan medical shadowing
Zhaohan (far left) and classmates from the Class of 2020

I'm Zhaohan, a first year student from the Duke-NUS Medical School. I'm also a trained and qualified lawyer of the Singapore Bar, having previously read law at the National University of Singapore. I applied to Duke-NUS in the knowledge that a life in medicine was for me, and like my peers, I've run the gamut of experiences to prepare myself for applying to medical school. Some of these experiences include work shadowing opportunities with physicians. If you'd like to know more about how best to make use of such opportunities, this article may be for you.

Why Work Shadowing?

Read our interview with Wharton Chan, who joined Duke-NUS Medical School in 2016 as an MD-PhD candidate after graduating with a Master of Biochemistry from University of Oxford. 

wharton singhealth hackathon
Wharton (2nd from left) with classmates at the SingHealth Hackathon 2017

How did you decide on pursuing an MD-PhD?

For many science graduates in Oxford, one thing always lurks at the back of the mind – should I do a PhD? Some dismiss this straight away, as lab work may not be the most enticing sort of career; but for many others, the Part II research experience provides a change in perspective, and may reassure thoughts of a research career. I fall into the latter group – it seemed that I was good at research, I enjoyed research, and it was ‘the right thing to do’.

Research in the Duke-NUS MD Programme:

I am Xue Ling, a born-and-bred Singaporean who did my undergraduate studies in Molecular Cell Biology and Economics at UC Berkeley. My four years in Berkeley were a huge eye-opener; it first exposed me to world-class research and passionate scientists and professors who were both knowledgeable in their fields, and dedicated to teaching. Fast forward to today, I am now a final year Duke-NUS student who just completed my research project on ultrasonography of the trigger finger.

As part of the Duke-NUS curriculum, our third year of medical school comprises 9 months of research that concludes with a thesis submission. These 9 months enable us to delve further into a scientific field we are interested in, and equip us with valuable skills for future research undertakings as doctors.

Choosing a research topic:

Most of my classmates and I chose research areas that were related to a specialty we were interested in. We also asked our seniors for advice on mentors and research topics, which ranged from mouse model work on signaling pathways in pancreatic cancer, to a comparison of imaging modalities on renal perfusion.

More about my research:

The most important question

Why do you want to be a doctor? Think about that question really hard because it’s going to come up for the rest of your life. It’s going to be on your application essays to medical school, on your interviews, on your dinner table with your parents; it’s going to be a question that you’re asked for the rest of your life from the moment you decide to enter medical school or even do an undergraduate pre-medical degree, as I did.

There is no one answer to this question and through the years, my answer changed drastically. I knew from the age of seven that I wanted to be a doctor and most of my life has been shaped by that decision. But it wasn’t until university that I finally figured out the true reason why I wanted to be a doctor.

Liwen Lee (MD Class of 2020)

At the Duke-NUS White Coat Ceremony in 2016 

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I studied at the University of Edinburgh for my undergraduate degree (in Medical Sciences) and graduated in the summer of 2016, a few weeks later I started my term in Duke-NUS!

So what got you interested in Medicine?

I was a part of St John Ambulance when I was in secondary school, where I not only learnt some medical knowledge but also the value of service. I realised I was super excited learning about the human body/medical conditions and I relished every opportunity given to me to serve as a First Aider. I knew then that I wanted to bring this one step further to pursue Medicine.

So how did you find out about Duke-NUS?

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