Nurturing doctors for the future

With a focus on developing thinking and caring research-oriented doctors, the unique Duke-NUS MD programme is anything but a ‘basic’ medical education. Dr Scott Compton, Associate Dean, Medical Education, Research and Evaluation, shares his assessment of the programme with us.

Prof Scott Compton

“People no longer need to be convinced that our unique curriculum works. In fact, they know that our students can handle and indeed, excel in the programme."

- Assoc Prof Scott Compton

It has been eight years since the Duke-NUS MD programme welcomed its inaugural intake of medical students. While our graduates are still in their Residency and we are seeing them do well in their areas of placement, feedback on our students and graduates has been encouraging and positive. In particular, we are hearing a change in the narrative about the school and students. People no longer need to be convinced that our unique curriculum works. In fact, they know that our students can handle and indeed, excel in the programme.

The positive feedback on how our students are doing in their medical placements vindicates the goals that we had set out to accomplish: impart skills and competencies to shape our graduates to be agents of change within an existing system. What we try to do is to not just select the people who have the intellectual capacity for medical school, but also those with the humanistic qualities needed to be a top-notch physician leader. It is therefore heartening to see many of our students take on and do well in leadership roles, like those of a chief resident’s.

Growing in research

Another aspect of the MD curriculum that has grown from strength to strength is in our partnerships with SingHealth and its researchers. This has been mutually beneficial for both our students and partners. On one hand, our students benefit from the mentorship of our carefully selected mentors, all of whom are high-calibre clinician scientists. The mentors, at the same time, benefit from our students because they offer something back to the research programme as a result of their diverse backgrounds, interests and perspectives. When applied to research work, this can lead to interesting approaches and outcomes. Ultimately, we hope that they develop long-term relationships that will lead to future collaborations.

Our efforts to carve out time to do mentored research to achieve the goal of building clinicians with a research focus have also resulted in some commendable outcomes. What we are seeing is that our students are very successful and extremely productive in conducting research both in Singapore and at Duke University in the US.

A school of close ties

What is significant for me has been seeing the school develop a strong collegial culture where the students support each other, work well together and collaborate to solve problems. This is in part nurtured through the TeamLEAD teaching-learning approach and from the open and warm organisational ethos. This team-based, collaborative spirit is one that brings value to medical school life, and also builds the foundations for our doctors to work well in multi-disciplinary teams to achieve a common good: that of improving medicine.

These attributes of humanism, leadership, teamwork and empathy are showcased in our student community service work. Some examples of successful Duke-NUS student-led activities include community initiatives like Camp Simba, the Paediatric Brain Tumour Awareness Day and World Autism Day. I continue to be amazed by how they continue to be so productive with student initiatives despite their study schedules. It speaks well of how our students embody the qualities we hope to develop and see in our doctors.

Dean Thomas Coffman addresses the Duke-NUS MD Programme Class of 2019
Dean Thomas Coffman addresses the Duke-NUS MD Programme Class of 2019
In August, the Class of 2019 took part in the White Coat Ceremony to mark their entry into medical school
In August, the Class of 2019 took part in the White Coat Ceremony to mark their entry into medical school

A place for professional and personal growth

Dr Joshua Chua was awarded the Duke-NUS Achievement Prize (Most Outstanding Third Year Basic Science Research Thesis) by Duke Professor Daniel Laskowitz during Research Day 2013
Dr Joshua Chua was awarded the Duke-NUS Achievement Prize (Most Outstanding Third Year Basic Science Research Thesis) by Duke Professor Daniel Laskowitz during Research Day 2013

Dr Joshua Chua, Duke-NUS Alumni, Class of 2014 - Neurosurgery Resident, Singapore General Hospital

Since college, I've always enjoyed planning community service events. So when I entered Duke-NUS as a medical student, I was glad to know that even while I train to be a doctor, I would have the opportunities to continue contributing to society.

This is because of the unique Duke-NUS culture. The school emphasises leadership, empathy and giving back to the community. We are all encouraged – and given many platforms – to take the initiative to run student-led activities. This inspired and enabled my peers and me to embark on several community projects.

With the strong support of my faculty, I organised the first World Autism Day in Singapore, as well as the inaugural Paediatric Brain Tumour Awareness Day. While these were challenging to put together, the school provided a lot of support and we had a group of dedicated students heading each event whose hard work led to the success of both.

Being given the opportunity to do community service, even during my training, has helped me to better understand the non-medical issues that patients have. It has also allowed me to develop leadership skills and better manage my time and resources, as well as to problem-solve and collaborate – all of which are skills that are critical to my growth as a doctor, colleague and person.

The Duke-NUS MD programme has also enhanced my professional development because of its structure. We are made to start our clinical work with patients in our second year of school and this has been critical in my preparations for my internships at the hospitals. The move from medical student to medical intern was a big jump and so the early introduction to clinical work helped to ease that transition. There are a lot of things that can't be taught. They need to be experienced. Attending to a collapsed patient, for instance, is something that we can simulate in practice sessions. But, while helpful, the experience is different when it happens for the first time in real life. The same goes for basic clinical work, such as taking a patient’s history and learning how to ask the right questions. The early clinical work also sharpened my focus, helping me to relate what I had learnt in theory and practice so that I could better identify clinically-relevant information.