Admissions Blog

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

For a few months since this March, there has been a new activity added to my usual Saturday morning routine. Earlier this year, I signed up to start taking classes to learn Hokkien, a dialect spoken by many overseas Chinese throughout Southeast Asia, including Singapore. At the time, I was not exactly sure how much I would be learning, especially when we would only have ten sessions. But, I decided to take the opportunity to learn a dialect I was completely unfamiliar with before.

Teacher Spotlight: Introducing Ms Ng Geok

Before diving into this brief learning experience, I want to introduce you to our teacher, Ms Ng Geok. Although retired for ten years, Ms Ng used to work for Mediacorp’s news and current affairs for 39 years as an assistant producer, reporting the news in Hokkien through TV and radio. Even after retiring, she continued to help with their live show for 2 hours every day, up to today.

After attending a seminar hosted by a linguistics professor from Xiamen University and starting a class on Hokkien pronunciation here in Singapore, she was asked to teach Hokkien to the general public after the professor returned to China. It was not until 2009 when she was approached and asked to teach Hokkien to students at Duke-NUS.

Every Saturday Morning


Natalie Wee (Year 3 MD student)

Natalie on holiday in Sydney, Australia

Tell us about your path to Duke-NUS.

I spent three amazing years in London studying Psychology at University College London (UCL), immersing myself in the vibrant city life and the active research scene in cognitive neuroscience. My initial plans to become a neuroscientist underwent a subtle but significant shift during one of my summer research stints - I caught a glimpse of life as a clinician while working under Prof Masud Husain (a physician-scientist) and was inspired to follow in his footsteps and give back to society through both medicine and science. After graduation, I returned to Singapore where I first worked for a year as a research assistant in Prof Michael Chee's lab at Duke-NUS, before joining as a medical student.

Is it possible for a medical student to balance medical school with extra-curricular work and activities? To answer that, allow me to share an experience of mine.

A bird's eye view of the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science

I have been serving as a boarding counsellor in the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science since 2011 in its boarding school. Back then, I was a final year NUS undergraduate. I had decided to apply for the position as I found the opportunity to make a positive difference as well as free accommodation an attractive win-win option. As a boarding counsellor, my responsibilities include mentoring a cluster of 18 mostly international teenage students and facilitating and organizing various boarding school events.

A picture with some of my students during a laser tag fun outing