Duke-NUS Medical School celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2021 through a unique virtual celebration, with 56 newly minted MD and MD-PhD doctors join Singapore’s healthcare workforce.

Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore’s flagship graduate-entry medical school, today celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2021 through a unique virtual celebration that brought together graduands, their families and invited guests via Zoom as well as well-wishers who could tune-in via livestream on Facebook. They were joined by Guest-of-Honour, Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry.

Among the Class of 2021 are 54 Doctor of Medicine Programme (MD) graduands who had switched from careers in the military, financial services and engineering as well as nursing, teaching and pharmacy to pursue their dream of studying medicine. Through Duke-NUS’ innovative curriculum, they were nurtured to grow into multi-faceted clinicians who bring unique insights and capabilities to patient care and biomedical research as ‘Clinicians First’ and ‘Clinicians Plus’ in the future.

Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS, said, “I am really proud of the Class of 2021. They have shown true grit and resilience in the face of the great uncertainty brought about by the global pandemic. I have no doubt that these qualities combined with their curiosity, compassion and pursuit of excellence will allow them to flourish as they forge their own careers, becoming outstanding clinicians who will make substantive contributions to the healthcare and biomedical ecosystems.”

During the virtual graduation, the School also recognised students for their academic achievements, extra-curricular contributions, leadership abilities and community service. Among the awards were the SingHealth Top Student Gold Medal for top overall academic achievement and the NUSS Medal for Outstanding Achievement that recognises academic excellence alongside significant extra-curricular contributions (for a full list of awards, please visit the Graduation webpage).

Earning not just the SingHealth Top Student Gold Medal but also the SingHealth Prize in Paediatrics, the Duke-NUS Achievement Prize for her Step 2CK performance and the Singapore Medical Association–Lee Foundation Achievement Prize for her exit exam, Dr Chang Huan Ying, a former pre-registration pharmacist at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and a Ngee Ann Kongsi Distinguished Scholar, said, “While academic excellence is the fruit of hard work, dedication and a fortuitous stroke of luck on some occasions, I think what is more important is an unwavering commitment to serve. My classmates and I have all worked hard because our future patients deserve nothing less than the best care we can deliver.”

While these graduands may have hailed from a range of backgrounds, many in the cohort, like Dr Wong Xiang Yi, a former rota commander at Alexandra Fire Station, are united in their purpose to improve the lives of their patients. Even the new challenges thrown up by the pandemic have not softened their resolve and commitment, and Dr Wong, for one, is rearing to get back to the frontline.

“Last year, when the wards were closed to us students, it was a frustrating time for me seeing former colleagues fighting on the frontline. Now that we’re graduating and starting our housemanship, I am excited to contribute to the battle against this pandemic in a meaningful way,” said Dr Wong, also a Ngee Ann Kongsi Distinguished Scholar.

The newly minted doctors shared this milestone with the 7th cohort of six PhD and two MD-PhD graduands.

Among them is the first PhD graduand from the Quantitative Biology and Medicine Programme, Dr Guan Peiyong. This programme was launched in 2017 to support Singapore’s drive to train more experts who can apply data science to medicine and 14 students have enrolled to date.

“I am looking forward to combining the power of big data with cancer science to identify new treatments for rare and aggressive types of kidney cancer,” said Dr Guan, who is taking up a position at the Genome Institute of Singapore to pursue this mission.

For Dr Geraldine Goh, who graduated with not just an MD but also a PhD, the last couple of years were intense—because she was finishing a dual degree during a pandemic while working in one of the leading coronavirus research labs at Duke-NUS under Professor Wang Linfa.

“During the last stretch of my studies, I could really see how basic scientific discoveries could change the way clinicians fought SARS-CoV-2 in the hospitals and contributed to wider public health measures. That was a game changer in terms of the rapid innovations and progress made, and it’s inspired me even more to keep pursuing this field,” said Dr Goh, who clinched the Duke-NUS Achievement Prize for Outstanding PhD or MD-PhD Student.

Keen to also be joining the frontline of healthcare alongside his classmates is President of the Class of 2021 and MD graduand Dr Ong Junyu, who had joined Duke-NUS following a career in finance.

“My mid-career change into healthcare was driven by an ambition for work that is impactful, challenging and enables me to engage with people. Four years on, this promise has been kept,” said Dr Ong, who received the Singapore Medical Association–Lee Foundation Teamsmanship Award along with four classmates. The award recognises five individuals who have demonstrated exemplary team values, such as engagement, servant leadership and cooperation.

During the virtual graduation, the graduands recited the Hippocratic Oath for the second time in their lives, having first pledged it when they donned their white coats four years ago. The PhD students marked their milestone with photo reflections of their scientific journey and mentors.

“Today, we graduated an exceptional group of young people, who have demonstrated to us, themselves and their families that they can overcome any challenge. They have distinguished themselves academically and in their commitment to the wider community and to each other. And in challenging times like today, it is minds like theirs that the world needs, to transform medicine, and to improve lives,” said Professor Ian Curran, Vice-Dean for Education.

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. In addition to the School’s innovative ‘Clinician First, Clinician Plus’ curriculum, students also benefit from the School’s partnership with SingHealth, Singapore’s largest healthcare group, that established the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre. During their four years of medical school, Duke-NUS students undertake clinical training at SingHealth healthcare institutions.