A flying start to medicine

A flying start to medicine

Being rejected from the Republic of Singapore Air Force didn’t get Dr Edwin Yang down; instead, he channelled his energies towards a career in surgery.

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Dr Yang (right) and his family at his graduation ceremony. Dr Yang enjoys the challenge of combining different fields of medical knowledge with surgical skills to treat patients. Photos: Duke-NUS

As a student at Anderson Junior College (now known as Anderson Serangoon Junior College), Dr Edwin Yang developed a passion for military aviation after joining the Singapore Youth Flying Club.

He received his Private Pilot Licence in 2003, the same year he graduated from junior college, and promptly applied to join the Republic of Singapore Air Force. Unfortunately, his dreams of becoming a military pilot fell flat, as he was diagnosed with esotropia during the pilots’ medical examination. The condition causes both eyes to turn inwards.

The 33-year-old can vividly recall the day he received his rejection letter from the Air Force.  “It occurred during my basic military training while I was serving my National Service. It didn’t help that I was also due to collect my A Level results on the same day, after a gruelling field camp. I was devastated that my lifelong dream was shattered.”


Despite his disappointment, Dr Yang refused to give up on his future. In 2006, he enrolled in the National University of Singapore (NUS), eventually graduating with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Life Sciences (Biomedical Sciences) in 2010. While pursuing his undergraduate degree, he developed an interest in medicine, as he wanted to use his scientific knowledge to help others.

Following an 18-month stint at the Ministry of Health as an assistant manager in surveillance – where he learnt to appreciate the unique characteristics of the Singapore healthcare eco-system and the challenges faced by frontline healthcare workers – Dr Yang applied for enrolment at Duke-NUS Medical School. This was his second attempt, after he was turned down in 2011.

Thankfully, his determination paid off, and he was successfully enrolled in the school in 2012. 

“I wanted to practise medicine locally, and felt that being in a Singapore medical school that offers clinical postings in public hospitals was the best way to immerse myself in the local healthcare culture. Furthermore, Duke-NUS is the only graduate medical school in Singapore,” said Dr Yang.


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Studying at Duke-NUS has proven to be a rewarding experience for Dr Yang. While there, he discovered his passion for surgery. “I enjoy the challenge of combining anatomical, physiological and pathological knowledge with surgical skills to treat patients,” he shared.

However, the journey to becoming a surgeon was not easy.

“I entered the General Surgery Residency Programme relatively early in my training, and faced a steep learning curve initially. I had to read up extensively on surgical conditions and how to manage them,” said Dr Yang.

It wasn’t all technical learning at Duke-NUS. Dr Yang also appreciated the other aspects of his education, which included communication skills. “Duke-NUS taught us things like how to break bad news to others. These are very useful to junior doctors as we engage patients and their families and partner them in their care journey,” he said.

The young doctor also got to hone his leadership skills at Duke-NUS. Dr Yang was class president from his first year until he graduated in 2016. Besides being involved in student activities, he also organised teaching sessions and maintained a surgery interest group that was started by his seniors.

One experience that stood out for Dr Yang is a study trip to Duke University’s home campus in Durham, North Carolina during his third year at Duke-NUS. Here, he took a transplant elective that saw him learning from experienced surgeons, attending a conference and participating in organ transplant surgeries.


Today, Dr Yang is a general surgery resident in SingHealth, where his days are filled with patient appointments, surgeries and evening briefings.

While his work has become more challenging, he derives great satisfaction from helping his patients. He certainly does not regret the unexpected direction his life has taken.

“Nothing worth doing is ever easy,” he said. “I have faced many setbacks, including being rejected from the Air Force and not getting accepted into Duke-NUS on my first application.

“But I realised that sometimes, as one door closes, another opens, so keep an open mind always. I would advise those interested in medicine to follow your interest, but be prepared to work very hard for it!”

Inspired by Dr Yang’s story? Find out more about Duke-NUS admissions and embark on your journey into the world of medicine.