NUS honoured the achievements of 21 outstanding alumni and three alumni teams comprising another 14 alumni at the prestigious NUS Alumni Awards 2023.

Duke-NUS Assistant Professor Rena Dharmawan (Class of 2011) and Speedoc Co-Founder and CEO Dr Shravan Verma (Class of 2014) became the first alumni from Duke-NUS to be honoured at the biennial NUS Alumni Awards.

At the ceremony, held on 2 November, a total of 35 alumni received awards in recognition of their contributions to the university, society and the world. Former President of the Republic of Singapore Madam Halimah Yacob received the Eminent Alumni Award, while Asst Prof Dharmawan and Dr Verma were among 12 alumni under the age of 40 who received the Outstanding Young Alumni Award.

Speaking at the event, NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye commended the recipients. They have "not only found success in their respective fields, but elevated what it means to be an alumnus or alumna of our institution: their achievements have enriched culture, advanced science, deepened humanity and have made society stronger and better," he said.

On receiving the Eminent Alumni Award, Mdm Halimah reflected that "NUS has played a formative role in my life, shaping not only my academic development but the values I have carried throughout my career."

Both Dr Verma and Asst Prof Dharmawan, who is Assistant Dean for Clinical Innovation and Ecosystem Development at Duke-NUS, were recognised for their significant contributions to Singapore's healthcare system.

"This award is a reminder that the journey of self-improvement, service, and learning is ongoing, and it motivates me to continue striving for excellence in everything I do with the team at Speedoc," said Dr Verma.

For Asst Prof Dharmawan, it also means recognition and appreciation. "It is really an honour that the School appreciates my team's work in the innovation space and has been fully supportive in all the initiatives we are doing," she said.

Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS, said, "I am thrilled that for the first time, not one but two Duke-NUS graduates will be receiving NUS Outstanding Young Alumni Awards. And both are truly exceptional."

Asst Prof Dharmawan, a serial innovator, is a graduate of Duke-NUS' inaugural cohort of medical students and has blazed a trail of innovation in healthcare and medical education, which includes launching three medical start-ups and patenting two inventions, one of which is SwabBot, an automated swabbing robot that she developed at the height of the pandemic. 

But it is her latest project, the Duke-NUS Health Innovator Programme that is her personal career highlight: "I reflected on what my real role, purpose and value-add is to the ecosystem and realised that the role of an enabler clicked with me. I love bringing together good people, who would not have 'organically' met in their day-to-day lives—from industry, health professions—and creating a platform where their talents can be united and work wonders."

Through the Programme, she brings industry partners, healthcare practitioners, as well as medical, business and engineering students together to close real-world healthcare gaps. Asst Prof Dharmawan hopes to expand the programme so that it can help train the next generation of health innovators not just "locally but regionally and even globally to build market-appropriate products and solutions to address unmet clinical needs".

Summing up her impact on the local ecosystem, Prof Coffman said, "Rena has made immense contributions to our School and the wider biomedical innovation community in Singapore. Her passion, energy and vision have turned many ideas into products, services and programmes that are shaping our discovery ecosystem and nurturing a new generation of clinician-innovators. She has always been a trailblazer and I have no doubt that she will continue to chart new ground for herself, our School and innovation in healthcare."

Through the Programme, she brings industry partners, healthcare practitioners, as well as medical, business and engineering students together to close real-world healthcare gaps. Asst Prof Dharmawan hopes to expand the programme so that it can help train the next generation of health innovators not just "locally but regionally and even globally to build market-appropriate products and solutions to address unmet clinical needs".

Dr Verma, who co-founded Speedoc in 2017, is a pioneer of telemedicine in Singapore. Intent on challenging the traditional centralised and facility-based healthcare model, Dr Verma has helped to revolutionise the delivery of care through services including house call doctors and nurses, delivery of medications as well as remote diagnostics and health monitoring to provide patients with greater convenience while reducing the burden on the healthcare system.

And it had all started when he found the pain from a sports injury worsening late one night in 2016. The only option back then was to head to an emergency room or 24-hour clinic—an idea he balked at as he was reluctant to put unnecessary strain on the medical system.

"I felt like I couldn't be the only one facing such an issue," recalled Dr Verma in an interview with MEDICUS in 2022.

And he was right. While the first few years were intense, Speedoc's services have taken off and expanded. During the pandemic, his health-tech start-up partnered the Ministry of Health to provide a virtual hospital programme, called H-Ward, to help patients recover at home. To date, close to 5,000 patients have been cared for and discharged from this programme. He also led his team as they set up mobile monitoring and medication dispensing workflows and protocols at migrant worker dormitories and provided pre-event testing—all alongside their core telemedicine and home-based care services.

"The sudden onset of the pandemic caught everyone off guard, demanding swift and innovative responses. We tackled the situation head-on, doing everything in our power to support our community during the crisis," said Dr Verma.

And it is this experience that is among the most memorable career moments for him.

"It reinforced the importance of adaptability, teamwork, and the necessity of always being prepared to confront obstacles head-on. It serves as a reminder of the critical role we play in our community's wellbeing and how we must continuously strive to make a positive impact, especially when unforeseen challenges arise," he said.

"Shravan has been a successful innovator and entrepreneur, pioneering efforts to make telemedicine and home-based continuous care an integral part of Singapore's healthcare system, long before COVID pushed such services to the forefront. I am confident that his vision for bringing care to patients, such as through his virtual hospital programme, will continue to shape our evolving healthcare system as Singapore's population heads towards super-aged status," said Prof Coffman.

And Dr Verma is already busy transforming this vision into reality. He is expanding the H-Ward programme across the region and hopes that it will go even farther in the near future.

"With the ageing population and shortage of hospital beds across the region, we see immense potential in extending our successful H-Ward model to benefit communities, providing high-quality healthcare in an efficient and innovative manner where borders are transcended by technology," said Dr Verma.

It is not just borders he hopes to transcend, but he and his team are also keen to welcome students who want to learn more about this programme and telemedicine.

"We see these young minds as key partners in advancing this narrative post-graduation, as they bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table, helping us further our mission and make a lasting impact on the world of healthcare," he said.

While both Asst Prof Dharmawan and Dr Verma have built successful careers and made an impact on the wider healthcare system, their contributions as alumni has also been felt closer to home as both continue to give back to the School—whether through supporting student recruitment efforts, sharing their experiences or mentoring students more directly.

Asst Prof Dharmawan said, "I enjoy mentoring, seeing our juniors and young aspiring innovators figure it out for themselves and guide them in their own journey. It makes me happy to see them successful."

Dr Verma agrees, adding that being an alumnus creates a lifelong bond and "commitment to the values, community and legacy of our alma mater": "I believe it's our responsibility to serve as ambassadors of our institution, supporting and nurturing the next generation of students, fostering a culture of excellence, and giving back to the community."

Added Prof Coffman: "Both Shravan and Rena are inspiring role models for our students and alumni as they pursue their individual Clinician Plus careers. We are proud to have two such outstanding Duke-NUS alumni recognised with theses prestigious awards and I look forward to seeing their next successes."

The biennial NUS Alumni Awards, launched in 2005, recognise alumni who have distinguished themselves and are presented in four categories, which also include the Distinguished Alumni Service Award and the Team (Alumni) Award. This year, 21 outstanding alumni were recognised with individual awards. Three teams comprising 14 alumni were also honoured.

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