Graduating students from Duke-NUS Medical School’s Class of 2020 mark their transition to becoming new clinicians with a modern, virtual take on an ancient rite of passage.

Taking their solemn first steps to join the ranks of Singapore’s healthcare frontline amid the COVID-19 pandemic, graduands from Duke-NUS Medical School’s Class of 2020 today made history with the nation’s first virtual Hippocratic Oath-taking ceremony.

Having joined Duke-NUS four years ago, this year’s graduating class includes a lawyer who had already been called to the bar, a banker who was already at management level, and a former naval officer from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). Buffeted by the challenges brought on by the pandemic, including enhanced infection control, social distancing measures, and supported by innovations to the delivery of medical training and examinations, the graduating students remained steadfast in their journey to complete their studies and qualify to become frontline doctors.

Duke-NUS Medical School’s tenth graduating class will join the medical workforce at a critical time of need as they step forward to contribute to the Nation’s fight against the novel coronavirus. Professor Ian Curran, Vice Dean for Education at Duke-NUS, said, “Now, more than ever, our healthcare and medical ecosystems need clinicians who are not only clinically competent but also compassionate and dedicated in their professional service to patients and their families. We are confident that the education and mentorship they have received at Duke-NUS Medical School has equipped them with the essential qualities and capabilities to excel in clinical practice. We are also excited to see how they will distinguish themselves and excel as Singapore’s future clinician leaders, innovators, educators, scientists and so transform medicine and improve lives in Singapore and beyond.”

Swearing the Hippocratic Oath occurs at two points in a clinician’s journey. First, at the White Coat ceremony during their first year of medical school, signifying the start of the Doctor of Medicine (MD) programme. Second, in their final year, when they complete their formal medical education. Written nearly two and a half thousand years ago, the Oath remains as relevant as ever, setting out the professional values and personal responsibilities that physicians agree to uphold for the benefit and care of their patients.

Given the unprecedented circumstances posed by COVID-19, Duke-NUS empowered graduands to commemorate this important milestone with family and friends, wherever they may be, by organising a virtual event on the Zoom videoconferencing platform, a unique event in the School’s – and the Nation’s – history. There, nonetheless, remain plans to hold a physical graduation ceremony and celebration when it is possible to do so. The Class of 2020 will officially graduate in June 2020 and will be starting work two weeks earlier than originally intended to help in the national response to COVID-19.

Despite the unusual circumstances, the Class of 2020 celebrated this important milestone with the same pride they have shown as an elite corps of students. They made their mark at Duke-NUS with the setup of mental health awareness group I’m STEADY lah, climbed mountains to raise funds for medical research, and, with support from SingHealth, worked in underserved communities as part of the 11th Overseas Medical Mission of Project Dove, the School’s student-led humanitarian initiative. The tenth graduating MD cohort is made up of a diverse group of students, all united to serve humanity as doctors.

Ms Chia Xintian, who was heavily involved in community service efforts during her time at Duke-NUS, commented, “Taking the Hippocratic Oath is a symbolic rite of passage that is meaningful to graduating medical students, enabling us to feel we are part of the medical community. Reciting the Oath – even virtually and with less-than-perfectly-synchronised voices, pixelated screens and variable internet bandwidths – is a perfect reminder that the core of medical ethics and values must remain steadfast despite evolving circumstances.”

Graduating senior Mr Lim Gim Hui, the 10th Overseas Medical Mission of Project Dove Director and SAF Naval Officer, also reflected on what it meant to join the medical workforce amidst the pandemic. “We are privileged to be given the chance to enter the medical profession during these times and I am glad to have the opportunity to put my training into practice for the care of patients,” he said.

Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS, said, “I am really proud of the Class of 2020. They have shown tenacity in the face of many disruptions during the first half of this year, and I have no doubt their resilience and dynamism will aid them meet future challenges and define their own successful paths as healthcare leaders.”

Duke-NUS was established in 2005 as a strategic partnership between Duke University School of Medicine in the USA and the National University of Singapore. As Singapore’s flagship graduate entry medical school, Duke-NUS delivers an innovative curriculum that enables students to harness their diverse backgrounds and life experiences to become multi-faceted clinicians who bring unique insights and capabilities to the healthcare and biomedical ecosystem in Singapore and beyond – all will be ‘Clinicians First’ with appropriate support; many will become ‘Clinicians Plus’.

The students at Duke-NUS also benefit from the School’s partnership with Singapore Health Services (SingHealth), Singapore’s largest healthcare group, that established the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre (AMC). During their four years of medical school, Duke-NUS students undertake clinical training at SingHealth healthcare institutions, among which is the Singapore General Hospital, ranked among the world’s best hospitals by global journal Newsweek.