Passing the Baton

With seven years as Duke-NUS Dean under his illustrious belt, Professor Ranga Krishnan is passing the mantle over to another distinguished research peer, Professor Thomas Coffman. Dr. Coffman, the current Dean-designate, will succeed Dean Krishnan when the latter’s term officially ends on 30 June 2015.

Prof. Thomas Coffman (Left) and Prof. Ranga Krishnan (Right)
Prof. Thomas Coffman (left) and Dean Ranga Krishnan (right)
A Legacy of Partnership

Dean Krishnan – whose legacy of forging deep ties between Duke Medicine, NUS and SingHealth even as he contributed to R&D (Research and Development) and educational leadership in Singapore – expressed satisfaction for his tenure as Dean. “It has been great for me, a wonderful adventure. I took on the challenge because it was a once in a lifetime chance to build a medical school,” he recalled. “It was a chance to start from scratch – in the absence of ‘legacy’ – and do new things to see if it worked. Not only did things proceed smoothly, we achieved all our key indicators ahead of time and budget, and we are on track to reach Phase III ahead of schedule.”

Dean Ranga Krishnan
Dean Ranga Krishnan

Acknowledging that there was some scepticism about the venture in its initial days, Dean Krishnan said, “I questioned if Singapore was the right fit and if I could make it work, but I knew Singapore needed another medical school and that Duke-NUS had a chance to work with SingHealth to build a vibrant and pioneering academic medical centre that could transform medical care in Asia.” This goal, to build academic medicine in Singapore, has proved successful as evidenced by the numerous collaborations with the various research institutions across the healthcare and research landscape, he added.

“I questioned if Singapore was the right fit and if I could make it work, but I knew Singapore needed another medical school and that Duke-NUS had a chance to work with SingHealth to build a vibrant and pioneering academic medical centre that could transform medical care in Asia.”
- Dean Ranga Krishnan

Taking Academic Medicine Further

And it is in this area of academic medicine that incoming Dean, Dr. Coffman, also hopes to take further. Dr. Coffman, a recognised leader in the field of nephrology, voiced his own excitement about the role and the chance to build on the strong foundation laid by Dean Krishnan. As founder and Director of Duke-NUS’ Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders Programme, Dr. Coffman is no stranger to the school’s work and achievements. As Dean, he will transition to a full-time position in Singapore and work towards raising the bar medical education and enhancing research collaborations.

He said, “The goal – and biggest challenge – over the next five years is further develop Duke-NUS’ partnership with SingHealth and develop systems to enable the pursuit of academic medicine in Singapore. We want to dovetail clinical work, research and education so that clinicians can more easily participate in research or teaching programmes and can integrate these aspects into day-to-day clinical practice. This will allow us to really bring our programmes to long-term fruition to influence patient care.”

Prof. Thomas Coffman
Prof. Thomas Coffman

“The goal – and biggest challenge – over the next five years is further develop Duke-NUS’ partnership with SingHealth and develop systems to enable the pursuit of academic medicine in Singapore.”
- Prof. Thomas Coffman

With the frameworks already in place, Dr. Coffman is looking to “flesh” out and build greater synergy between Duke-NUS and its partners. “Dean Krishnan has been a real visionary and established the framework, structures, and key players. I’ll benefit from his work and will continue to manage and build on these as we move forward.”

Coming from a more clinical background, Dr. Coffman hopes to bring different skillset to the table, that of improving healthcare delivery. “Leveraging the partnerships already forged, the goal is to bring Duke-NUS health researchers together with those in SingHealth to look at some of the issues of care delivery and patterns of care and figure out the best way to organise care. What we hope to do is catalyst positive change by capitalising on the superb clinical care that exists across the SingHealth system and the resources of the research programmes at Duke-NUS.”

Dean Ranga Krishnan (left) and Prof. Thomas Coffman (right) in front of the Duke-NUS Stone Wall.
Dean Ranga Krishnan (left) and Prof. Thomas Coffman (right) in front of the Duke-NUS Stone Wall.
Raising the Bar on Education

Over the next five years, Dr. Coffman aims to raise the education bar and produce students for the spectrum of medical work, from physicians and researchers to academics. “We aim to increase our intake from the current 60 to 75 students over the next five years,” he shared. More than that, the aim is to ensure that graduating students return to pursue collaborations with Duke-NUS. “Our hope is that our graduating students, as those that understand both the clinical and academic sides, will form a new generation of physicians and researchers who can make fundamental changes in the way we deliver care,” he said. This becomes even more pressing in an ageing population and with the rise of chronic disease.

The TeamLEAD approach, which has become a distinctive part of Duke-NUS education, will play an important role in elevating medical education, said Drs. Coffman and Krishnan. “Here at Duke-NUS we have proved that team-based learning – a whole new paradigm in medical education – is effective and I am particularly proud that our innovative learning approach is now used at Duke in the U.S. not only in medicine but in other faculties as well,” said Dean Krishnan. In an era of user-based content, TeamLEAD is part of an evolving approach to learning – a focus on application, not memorisation of knowledge, he added.

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