Admissions Blog

To help those sitting for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) this coming MCAT season, we interviewed a student who will be joining our MD Class of 2020. We posed the following questions to April, who holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) degree from Nanyang Technological University and scored 520 on her MCAT. She was part of the first few batches of candidates who sat for the new MCAT, launched in April 2015. Here’s how she prepared for the test.

How far in advance of your test date did you begin studying for the MCAT? Were you studying full time or did you have a job/were you still in school at the time? How was your study schedule like?  I began studying for the MCAT one month in advance of my test date (ie. July for my early August test date). As this was during summer of my junior year, I was able to just focus on studying for the test that entire month. Due to the short duration I had to study and the sheer volume of content, my study schedule was 15 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Vanessa Cheong (Year 1 MD student)

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I spent 4 memorable years studying Pharmacy in London School of Pharmacy (now merged under University College London) in the city of London, United Kingdom before graduating with an MPharm degree in 2013. After completing my 1 year pre-registration training at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and various institutions, I worked as a pharmacist in IMH's general psychiatric, rehabilitation and the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) ward before joining the Duke-NUS MD program last year in 2015.

What are some of your interests and hobbies?

I enjoy creative and artistic pursuits in general, especially art and music. I draw and do digital art in photoshop, sing and perform occasionally. I also love the Japanese language and culture and will be happy to have more opportunities to practise the language! My other hobbies include reading, travelling and photography.

Would you share a great experience or opportunity you’ve had at Duke-NUS?

8 November 2015: Today was the big day. The big day we’d been planning for and organizing for almost a whole year. A lot of time and hard work had been put into making this day happen. Every one of us in the committee contributed lots of energy – be it by email/phone harassing sponsors, planning event logistics, creating event graphics, or keeping track of progress and deadlines. The Paediatric Brain Tumour Awareness day was finally here.

Duke-NUS students all set for Paediatric Brain Tumour Awareness Day

The set-up team arrived early in the morning at around 7am to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Besides the banner that had been set up the night before, there was still a lot of work left to do before the event officially began at 8:30am. Tables had to be placed properly according to plan. Booths and props to set up. Microphones, sound system, and DJ equipment prepped and ready to go. In the blink of an eye, it was 8:30am. Everything was set up and ready to go. The crowd, however, had not arrived.

Setting up

On the 15th October 2015, a group of final year medical students from Duke-NUS gathered together, and walked 50km to fundraise for the Student Financial Aid fund. I was part of the team, and I shall expound on why we did what we did.

Photo of the gang before setting off on the walk

Why fundraise?

Medical school is substantially costlier than most other graduate courses, and it is the school’s strong belief that no student is denied of an education due to financial needs. There is great demand for financial aid as well - around two-thirds of our student population are on some form of financial aid. We took the initiative and actively fundraised for this campaign even though we would not be direct beneficiaries. As seniors who have reaped the fruits sowed by our predecessors, we find that it is only right that we continue to pay it forward to our Duke-NUS community, and help sustain this noble tradition.

Why walk?

A little about me

Two years ago, I graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. I’m now a wide-eyed, enthusiastic first year medical student. In the two years between graduation and matriculation, I conducted research in sleep and circadian rhythms with Dr. Joshua Gooley at Duke-NUS. Having known I have wanted to pursue a medicine for quite some time, most people ask me why I didn’t join medical school directly. Why take two years off to do research? I needed a break is what I usually answer. Jokes aside, honestly, instead of going to medicine immediately, I wanted to have an extended opportunity to do research. I have always believed research to be the mother of medicine; so to have unfiltered time to conduct research before pursuing medicine was important for me.

Graduating from Duke University

How I spent my 2 years


Haikel Lim (Year 1 MD student)

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I graduated with a BSocSci(Hons) from National University of Singapore (NUS), where I read psychology and was part of the University Scholars Programme. Because I was incredibly interested in the spectrum of psychological research, my junior undergraduate years were spent as a volunteer research assistant/minion for a number of amazing mentors both locally and overseas (shoutout to Prof Crystal Park, Dr June Gruber, and Dr Patricia Chen!), and my senior undergraduate years were spent under the tutelage of A/P Konstadina Griva at NUS, where we worked on understanding the issues and barriers facing dialysis and diabetic patients. I spent the next two years after graduation as a full-time research associate for the inspiring A/P Rathi Mahendran and Prof Kua Ee Heok at National University Health System (NUHS), where we strengthened the clinical research arm of the Psychosocial Oncology Service. While at NUHS, I also pursued a part-time research MSc with NUS focused on psychological medicine and biostatistics, before joining Duke-NUS to commence my medical education.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

In March 2015, while I was conducting my research studies at Duke University (Durham, NC), I joined a team of Duke students and faculty leaders to travel 3,000 miles southwest of Durham to the small town of Las Mercedes, Honduras.

The mission of the trip was to improve access to healthcare in rural areas of Honduras.

The team adjusted to the elevation of the mountain town that sits 5,000 feet above sea level.

At the travel clinic, we were getting comfortable speaking Spanish, and were able to develop a connection with our patients.

We conducted home visits to develop better cross-cultural understanding.

At Duke-NUS, we are not only medical students but also part of the Duke-NUS family. In July, as we transitioned from our embryonic year in medical school to become seniors for the incoming class, we had the great privilege of organizing the welcoming party for the year 1s.

An effective orientation should not only be filled with lots of fun and laughter, but more importantly, help the year 1s warm up to the Duke-NUS family and get comfortable working with their peers. Personally, I benefitted a lot from my orientation and wanted the incoming year 1s to experience the same – if not better.


Cindy Zhu (Year 2 MD student)

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I was born in Nanjing, China, and moved to Canada with my family at age 7 to the beautiful West Coast city of Vancouver. I did my undergraduate studies at McGill University, where I majored in Physiology and minored in Social Studies of Medicine. During my third and fourth years, I worked as research assistant in Dr. Jon Sakata's neurobiology lab, whose research focuses on the neural basis of vocal communication using the songbird model, a topic that I found quite fascinating. I moved to Singapore in the same summer that I graduated from McGill to join the Class of 2018 at Duke-NUS.

What are some of your interests and hobbies?

Since I was young, I enjoyed playing the piano as I found it a really enjoyable way to express myself. After moving away from home and no longer having regular access to a piano, I started jogging and doing yoga, which are my go-to stress reliever activities now in medical school. I also enjoy exploring Singapore (even if it's from of studying at different Starbucks cafes around Singapore with my roommates during the busy periods) as much as time allows.

Project DOVE (Duke-NUS Overseas Volunteering Expedition), organised by a team of medical students from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, first pioneered under the name of Project Karen in 2010. Since then, teams representing Project DOVE have travelled to Thailand and Vietnam annually to improve lives beyond Singapore, by providing sustainable medical care and health education to underprivileged communities.

This year, from 26th April to 1st May, I was privileged to be one of 20 Duke-NUS medical students accompanied by 4 doctors for Project DOVE. The expedition was a collaboration with an NGO called One-2-One Cambodia and featured a 3-day mobile clinic and a 1-day health education programme in Kampong Speu, Cambodia.

Setting up of pharmacy upon arrival at the guesthouse in preparation for the next day’s clinic