At the age of ten, Tuleen Sihabi was diagnosed with Goldenhar Syndrome, a rare congenital condition that causes curvature in the spine (scoliosis) and facial asymmetry. The next five years of her life were marked by two major surgeries to mend her uneven jawbones and straighten her spine. Sihabi, who is Turkish and grew up in the United Arab Emirates, conquered complications and overcame the emotional and mental distress of her operations and recovery process.
As a patient, I fully understand the whole process of recovery — from undergoing surgeries to receiving long-term treatment — as well as the mental and emotional struggles involved. My surgeons were very meticulous and had vast knowledge and skillsets, which impressed me,” said the 22-year-old. “All these fuelled my passion to pursue medicine and developed my interest in patient-centric care.”
Sihabi is one of the 72 students who make up Duke-NUS’ Class of 2024 – a cohort that brings together individuals from diverse academic backgrounds, professions and cultures. As diverse as their backgrounds are, they are united in their commitment to becoming competent, caring and compassionate doctors, a commitment that was tested even before they took their first steps as medical students.
Addressing the new intake of medical students during the virtual White Coat Ceremony, Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS, described them as a highly accomplished group whose rich diversity adds depth and brings fresh perspectives to Singapore’s medical community.
"I applaud their commitment to enter the medical profession when the world is facing an unprecedented pandemic and I’m excited to see what they can achieve to address our current and future healthcare challenges."
Unique paths, shared goals
During the ceremony, the students donned their white coats virtually and recited the Hippocratic Oath collectively, a symbolic rite of passage to mark the start of their medical journey.
While Sihabi always knew from a young age that medicine would be her destination, her classmate Dinesh s/o Tamil Selven, a biomedical engineer by training, was driven by a desire to help others. Pursuing biomedical engineering would allow him to contribute to the health of others, but he realised during his undergraduate internship at a biomedical technology company that he wanted to be on the frontlines himself.
L-R: Tuleen Sihabi (second row, third from right) and Dinesh s/o Tamil Selven, pictured here on a trip to northern Sweden during an exchange to the country in 2018, are among the 72 MD students who joined Duke-NUS this year
“While it was gratifying to know that I helped engineer a cutting-edge cancer diagnostic device, which potentially improved patients’ lives, I felt that something was still missing. I wanted to witness the effects of my work first-hand and it gives me a sense of fulfilment to be able to make a difference in patients’ lives,” said the 26-year-old Singaporean.
Despite receiving more than ten offers from medical schools across the United States, 31-year-old South Korean Josh Ko Junsuk knew that Duke-NUS was the best choice for him. To the young scientist, who earned a PhD from MD Anderson Cancer Centre Graduate School, Duke-NUS’ curriculum, pedagogy and philosophy made it stand out from the rest.
“Duke-NUS runs on the TeamLEAD framework, which is an advanced form of problem-based learning. In addition to the curriculum, Duke-NUS has a wonderful research component,” said Ko, who wants to combine his passion for clinical research with patient care.
“I believe that Duke-NUS can help me grow as a well-balanced clinician scientist,” he added.
For Singaporean Clara Eng, the twin focus on clinical rotations and research topped off with a flipped classroom learning approach made Duke-NUS the only choice for her.
L-R: Josh Ko, who picked Duke-NUS over more than ten other medical schools, and Clara Eng, a trained Chinese traditional medicine practitioner, were both attracted by the environment and opportunities that Duke-NUS offers
“It sounded like a stimulating environment that I wanted to be part of,” said Eng, a 27-year-old traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who wants to help patients with chronic conditions like diabetes stay healthy longer.
“I lost both grandmothers to diabetes-related complications, which could have been prevented if managed from the onset of the disease,” said Eng.
While these aspiring clinicians strive to become caring doctors, many felt that their dreams resonated strongly with the core tenet of Duke-NUS’ educational philosophy to train ‘Clinicians First, Clinicians Plus’. This approach aims to nurture outstanding clinicians who, at the same time, possess inherent pluripotency to develop their careers into any number of directions from clinician scientist to educator, innovator or even entrepreneur.
“I hope to conduct cancer research to improve the lives of patients. Duke-NUS’ unique mentored research curriculum allows for experienced clinicians and researchers in this field to guide me along the way,” said Dinesh.
Others like Sihabi want to combine their clinical skills with teaching. Being a first-generation college and medical student, Sihabi decided to pay her hard-earned experience forward as an undergraduate by leading a student society that supports those interested in health and medicine.
“Duke-NUS’ focus on ‘Clinicians First, Clinicians Plus’, which encourages students to look beyond just becoming clinicians, aligned with my goals of one day being an educator,” said Sihabi.
But for now, she and her new classmates are excited to embark on their four years at medical school.