​• Duke-NUS has admitted 72 highly accomplished students to its 16th cohort of the MD programme
• While most students hail from scientific disciplines, this class also includes individuals from backgrounds such as history, accounting and engineering; the cohort ranges in age from 21 to 34
• Nine students have joined through Duke-NUS’ conditional admissions pathways, bringing different perspectives and skills that will enhance healthcare

Duke-NUS Medical School has introduced social prescribing in the first-year curriculum of its Doctor of Medicine Programme (MD) to train tomorrow’s doctors to direct patients to the community to improve their health and lifestyles—in line with the commitment of the Ministry of Health to prioritising population health with community support.

The first batch of students to benefit from this curriculum change will be the 16th cohort of the School’s MD programme, which is jointly awarded by Duke University and the National University of Singapore. Coming from diverse backgrounds, the Class of 2026 comprises 72 students who have fought hard for their dream to study medicine at the School, including nine who have come from Duke-NUS’ conditional admissions pathways. The students donned their white coats in a rite-of-passage White Coat Ceremony earlier today.

Expanding on the role of social prescribing in the curriculum, Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS, said: “Our new emphasis on social prescribing will expose students to the wide range of social, emotional and practical needs of their patients while providing resources to address them. The transition from a singular focus on caring for the sick to promoting population health is a big change for our healthcare system. Duke-NUS is preparing the next generation of doctors for this new approach.”

Professor Ian Curran, Vice-Dean for Education at Duke-NUS, said: “The early opportunity to interact with healthcare workers, patients and their families and so recognise the importance of the social determinants of health and the wider implications of social prescribing will allow our students to develop a more holistic, humanistic and population-based approach to their practice of medicine. We believe blending the art and science of medicine is critical if we are to produce kind, compassionate clinicians capable of transforming medicine and improving lives.”

Like their predecessors, each student joining Duke-NUS this year had to first go through a rigorous evaluation process overseen by a high-level committee. In addition to having a bachelor’s degree and high scores in the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test or Medical College Admission Test, they also had to prove that they have what it takes to become the next generation of doctors through their academic and personal attributes.

While most students have strong science backgrounds, Duke-NUS’ characteristically diverse intake also includes students with degrees—and, in some cases, careers—in history, accounting, education, engineering and other non-science subjects.

In addition, the nine students who were admitted through Duke-NUS’ conditional admissions pathways will bring different perspectives and skills into the constantly evolving medical landscape. The conditional admissions pathways are only offered to outstanding students who first pursue other academic interests before learning medicine.

Ms Suzanne-Kae Rocknathan, 22, is a graduate of engineering systems and design who benefitted from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)-Duke-NUS pathway that will enable her to make impactful changes in healthcare not only as a clinician but also through innovation and research.

“The experience of approaching my undergraduate degree with a positive attitude and picking up technical skills that I previously found intimidating—such as coding in various languages—is a growth opportunity that I am very thankful for and proud of,” said Ms Rocknathan. “My various project experiences in SUTD not only developed my analytical and technical skills but also changed my outlook. I found myself more observant of my surroundings as I would often actively identify potential areas of innovation while also considering resource (and other) limitations.”

This year’s cohort also includes four students with master’s degrees and three students with PhDs. Dr Dhakshenya Ardhithy Dhinagaran, 26, who is a PhD holder in Digital Health and Evidence-Based Medicine from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, already has three published studies and two further manuscripts under review, on topics such as chatbots used in healthcare and the public’s perception of chatbots for diabetes prevention.

Dr Dhinagaran said, “To me, being a medical doctor means being a source of comfort and someone people can depend on when they are feeling worried, anxious or ill. The fact that people are relying on you to show up as the best version of yourself and give everything that you’ve got to help them reach a healthier state is the thing that motivates me to be an excellent doctor.”

Ms Luo Xiao Ran, 21, had graduated earlier this year from the University of California, Berkeley. While there, she served first as awareness chair, then as president with the University’s Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Programme. She was inspired to join Duke-NUS upon realising that her passion lay in connecting with people and equipping them with knowledge to improve their self-care.

“As the field of medicine advances, it will be an exciting time where more and more questions will be answered and explored, and I would like to be part of this exploration,” said Ms Luo, a Goh Foundation Scholar at Duke-NUS. “At the same time, I would also like to help ensure that this advancement benefits more people by increasing health education and accessibility, which is an aspect of medicine that is becoming increasingly more prominent. Being a doctor in the future fills me with excitement and hope.”

At the White Coat Ceremony, the newest cohort of students stood together in their personalised white coats—a symbol of the medical profession—and recited the Hippocratic Oath, a centuries-old tradition followed by those entering the medical field. The students were joined not only by their families and loved ones but also the School’s management, faculty, current students, alumni and staff to celebrate the start of their four-year MD programme.

Founded on Duke-NUS’ ‘Clinicians First, Clinicians Plus’ approach, the four-year MD programme is designed to cultivate students into competent clinicians who can contribute meaningfully to the healthcare system as scientists, educators, innovators and leaders. Through the School’s strategic partnership with SingHealth, students will be able to receive world-class training in a rich, multi-disciplinary ecosystem provided by Singapore’s largest healthcare group.