Dr Dave Ng (left) and Dr Lim Gim Hui are among the 62 in the graduating cohort of the Duke-NUS Medical School.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF DAVE NG, LIM GIM HUI

He was a naval officer for eight years, and last held the position of officer commanding of a naval helicopter squadron.

But four years ago, Dr Lim Gim Hui decided to make a career switch after seeing what other people had to live through on volunteer humanitarian missions overseas - and signed up for medical school instead.

"Realising how privileged I am as a Singaporean, I wanted to do all I can to give back to society," said the 35-year-old.

On Friday (May 29), Dr Lim was one of 62 in the graduating cohort of the Duke-NUS Medical School who marked their transition to becoming doctors by reciting the Hippocratic Oath in 30-minute virtual ceremony. The oath-taking set out the values and responsibilities physicians agree to uphold for the care of their patients.

The coronavirus pandemic had pushed back plans for a formal graduation ceremony, which had been slated for Saturday (May 30).

The school intends to hold a physical ceremony when it is feasible and is looking at dates in December this year or January next year.

Its 10th graduating class will join the medical workforce next month, at a critical time as Singapore fights the 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."

The school "made every effort" to ensure that students could take the oath before starting work as doctors next month. The event was held on video-conferencing platform Zoom.

"We did not want students to miss out on this important and moving ceremony," said Prof Curran. "It is a long-established rite of passage where medical graduates individually and collectively recite the oath, together with other fellow senior clinicians. It marks their personal entry into the medical profession."

For Dr Lim, who starts a posting at the National University Hospital, it is a reminder to continue doing what they were trained for.

He recently completed his six-week posting at Sengkang General Hospital under a Student-In-Practice programme that allows final-year students to practise under the supervision of senior doctors. There, he examined patients, conducted daily ward rounds, communicated with their family, and performed procedures, among other tasks.

He said his time in the navy gave him the skills to establish rapport with his patients and work well with others in a team.

While concerned about the virus, the father of two children, aged two and six, said he will take the necessary precautions .

"Every day, I see many putting aside their fears and steadfastly carrying out their duties. I am humbled to be able to join the ranks of these people," he said.

Fellow graduate Dave Ng said the oath-taking marks the start of another chapter. Before entering medical school, he worked for a few years after getting his chemical and biomolecular engineering degree in 2013.

The 31-year-old, who will be starting work as a house officer at Changi General Hospital next month, said he is not overly concerned about going to work, adding that his training has taught him to adhere to the necessary precautions. "This virus does not change the nature of a doctor's work."

While he is a little disappointed that the graduation ceremony had to be postponed, Dr Ng said these are unprecedented times.

"Compared to final-year medical students in other parts of the world who had exams cancelled and graduated into the workforce prematurely, I think things are going pretty well for us, given that only the graduation ceremony is postponed," he said.