As a graduate-entry medical school, Duke-NUS has long taken a holistic approach to admissions, enrolling students who hail from varied professional backgrounds and academic disciplines.
In addition to being outstanding clinicians, Duke-NUS students are also innovators, educators and scientists, working to harness breakthroughs in technology, research and learning to benefit the medical field.
Duke-NUS graduate Beau Fenner and current Duke-NUS student Sivarajan Sivanesh embody the school’s commitment to embracing students from diverse backgrounds. The former began his career in the research sector, while the latter started his career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Both eventually made the transition to medicine out of a desire to contribute to the well-being of people.
BECOMING A JACK OF ALL TRADES
Mr Fenner graduated from Murdoch University in Australia with a PhD in 2003 and was working in a laboratory conducting research. While he was aware that his work was laying the foundation for potential medical applications, he could not help feeling detached from its real-world benefits.
During an earlier fellowship, he had met several clinician scientists who split their time between clinical practice and research. They sometimes shared how their research was able to directly benefit their patients, which Mr Fenner found inspiring.
“That, along with encouragement from my (now) wife, made me conclude that medicine might be a good choice,” he added.
Mr Fenner enrolled in Duke-NUS’ Doctor of Medicine (MD) programme in 2011 and graduated in 2014. He chose Duke-NUS for its post-graduate medical training, and for the institution’s flexible approach to learning.
Initially, he found the coursework challenging. His background as a researcher – and the specialised knowledge he had developed – seemed to work against him. However, he soon discovered that a medical student needs to be a jack of all trades.
“As a basic researcher, your knowledge becomes very uneven over time and you learn a great deal only about your particular niche. But as a medical student, you really need to step back and try to learn the basics of a large number of topics. So, I definitely had to adjust the way I approached things,” he said.
Common ground with other students who had research backgrounds as well as encouragement from lecturers also helped.
“For me, more than anything else, it was the school’s flexibility and adaptability that really stood out. The faculty regularly sought feedback and implemented new models of learning to improve the quality of the teaching programme,” he shared.
Mr Fenner is now an associate consultant in the Cataract and Comprehensive Ophthalmology department, a clinical fellow in the Medical Retina department, and the chief resident of the Ophthalmology Residency Programme at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC).
His experience at Duke-NUS has helped to shape his approach to medicine, he shared, as well as how he thinks about his career in the long term.
Said Mr Fenner: “As a junior doctor, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work we encounter on a daily basis. But as time passes and you become more comfortable with your clinical work, doctors often start thinking of what else they can do to contribute to medicine.”
FROM DIPLOMACY TO MEDICINE
As a teenager, Mr Sivarajan wanted to work in the finance sector, reasoning that the high salary would allow him to make his goals a reality. After graduating from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Commerce (First Class Honours), however, he realised that financial rewards alone would not satisfy him.
“I realised that it was not money that motivated me but the fulfilment that accompanies making a contribution to society around me, which has made so many fantastic things in my life – like education and security – possible,” he said.
Wanting to contribute to the greater good, he took up a posting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and stayed there for three-and-a-half years. During this period, several people he knew passed away from chronic illnesses.
Experiencing such loss, combined with his long-running interest in healthcare and geroscience (the biology of ageing), propelled him to enrol in Duke-NUS Medical School in 2019.
His motivation? To apply existing medical therapy so that others can eventually enjoy the fruits of advances against ageing.
Mr Sivarajan, who expects to graduate from the MD programme in 2023, said: “A special interest of mine is to establish Singapore’s first cryonics organisation for the preservation of patients, in the hopes that advances in medicine will one day permit revival.”
Without a formal background in biology, he found his studies to be challenging initially. Fortunately, help was available.
“Duke-NUS has experienced faculty members who can tap into their knowledge of what other students have gone through and help students navigate this challenge,” he said.
The other significant draw was the research year that was part of the syllabus.
Said Mr Sivarajan: “I’ve had a fantastic time in the research and scholarship year! This part of the programme really enables you to understand what it can take to answer scientific questions you might have.”
For both Mr Fenner and Mr Sivarajan, combining their individual expertise and interests with Duke-NUS’ academically rigorous medical school education has helped them fulfill a common desire – to use their medical knowledge to improve the lives of others.
Find out more about Duke-NUS admissions here.