The Dean, Professor Chong Yap Seng, hosted a dinner to welcome the Class of 2024 on 28 July 2019. We publish an edited version of his exhortation to the newcomers.
“Tonight, you take your very first steps into an ancient, distinguished and very noble profession. To describe the Medical profession, there are no words more appropriate than those spoken by Sir John Anderson, Governor of the Straits Settlements, when he opened this school in 1905:
“What I want you to remember is that the course of study you are about to enter upon is not merely intended to enable you to earn a living, but a passport to membership of a very great profession, a profession in many instances, of unselfish devotion and splendid achievement, a profession of lofty ideals and one which calls for all the best qualities, mental and moral... It demands not only freshness and vigour of body, but steadiness and skill of hand and eye. It wants infinite patience and keenest sympathy, and to all these qualities, there has to be added unfaltering courage.”
The heritage of the Medical School is a long and distinguished one. On 3 July 1905, the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States Government Medical School was established. The colonial government challenged the local community to raise a sum of $71,000 in order for the school to be set up. The business community, led by Peranakan businessman and philanthropist Mr Tan Jiak Kim, rose to the challenge and raised $87,000 in just three months. In 1913, an endowment of $120,000 from the King Edward VII Memorial Fund saw the institution renamed the King Edward VII Medical School. Nine years later, it became the King Edward VII College of Medicine to reflect its academic standing as a university entity.
In October 1949, the College amalgamated with Raffles College to form the University of Malaya, and the College became known as the Faculty of Medicine. On 1 January 1962, the University of Singapore was founded. It then merged with Nanyang University to form the National University of Singapore on 8 August 1980. So you see, the National University of Singapore came about because of our Medical School, which in turn came about from a truly Singaporean effort.
In 2005, the National University of Singapore Faculty of Medicine celebrated its Centennial. It was renamed the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in acknowledgement of a generous gift from the Yong Loo Lin Trust.
I am sure that all of you are pleased that you have been admitted to the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. Some of you may be a little hesitant, even anxious about the five years of hard work that lie ahead of you. But I trust that all of you are filled with the determination to do your best.
The vision of our School is to “Inspire Health for All.” This means that we do not think that a doctor’s role is only to treat patients and cure diseases. We believe that doctors should play a critical role in promoting the health of their community, and have the duty to teach the next generation of healthcare professionals. As clinical researchers and innovators, we also need to find solutions for better health to improve the lives of all.
Whatever you imagine the next five years and the practice of Medicine to be, I can confidently tell you that it will not be close to anything that you have conceived. The five years that you are going to spend with us will be transformative ones that will shake you and shape you. Shake you, because much of what you will see, learn and experience will rattle your pre-conceived notions and ideas. Shape you, because the rigorous training that you will undergo will challenge you not just to become a competent doctor.
If this is all that we succeed in doing, we will have only achieved a small part of our goal. No, we want you to become the kind of doctor you yourself would choose to care for your loved ones. Doctors who “cure sometimes, relieve often, and comfort always”. We want you to be doctors with the right motivation, rooted deeply in the values of the School – Humility, Compassion, Integrity, and Respect – for whom Empathy and Excellence are second nature, and for whom the needs of the patient and the community come first.
Your learning starts tonight, together with your classmates. Look around you: these are the friends with whom you will be spending the next five years of your life with. Get to know them well. Learn to work with them.
Regardless of which polytechnic, junior college or school you have come from, all of you will have been used to being the best students in your class. Here, however, half of you will be in the bottom half of the class. There is no shame in that. What you have to do is to try your hardest and be the best doctor that you can be. You have been used to competing with others to see who can be the top student in the class. Here, your competition is with yourself– we do not look at your grades when it comes to choosing residents for further training. All you need to do is to pass and 99 per cent of you will do so; so there is no point fighting with your classmates. Instead, learn to work with them and help one another be better doctors.
What we look for when we choose residents are people who have strong values and who can work well in a team, as responsible, reliable colleagues. How you behave in class and in the wards. How you treat your classmates, teachers and patients. How you dress and show Respect to everyone. Your Humility, Integrity, and Compassion. These are the things that we take note of when we choose people to come and work with us.
As you journey through the next five years, ask questions often of your tutors, mentors, teachers and House Masters. They are wise doctors and scientists and they have much to teach you and share with you. Please take every opportunity to learn from them.
When you start classes in two weeks’ time, many of you will feel liberated by the lack of a requirement to wear a school uniform. Something you have not experienced before in school. Some of you may get carried away by the unaccustomed liberty and be tempted to allow the strange freedom of the situation to spill over into your behaviours. I would like to take the opportunity now to strongly disabuse you of the notion that University is the place to “let go and be yourself”.
For some students that might be the case but you are training to be doctors, you are entering a noble profession where your conduct will be scrutinised for prudence, sobriety and integrity, among the many other qualities expected of the medical profession. You will be held to the highest standards of conduct in your chosen profession, a profession that entitles you access to very private and sensitive knowledge about your patients and practice privileges that determine their health and well-being. You must not betray that public trust in your attitude, conduct and performance, a habit that you should begin forming tonight.
You may have noticed that among the Values of the School, we did not list Excellence. That is because we take that quality to be a given. In most rankings, we are the top medical school in Asia. Which means we are the best medical school in the world, for Asia.
And I must emphasise that we are not here to chase rankings. As a truly Singaporean medical school, we want to be the best we can be. And for Singapore, that often means we can be the best in the world.
Can we take the next step?
Of course, we can!
Singapore and Singaporeans have shown time and again that we can punch well above our weight in any endeavour we choose to undertake.
Whether it be in the marine industry or having the most widely accepted passport or the best airline in the world.
And even the best bank in the world! Who would have ever thought that DBS would ever be Number 1 in the world of banking? And it has won not one but three awards to confirm this.
Last month, The Straits Times carried a story about one of our alumni, Dr Chan Khye Meng, who graduated from our school in 1961. He is now 86 years old and finally closed the doors of his Tanglin Halt clinic after 55 years of GP practice. His many patients, which include me – he was my GP when I was young – spontaneously went to bid him goodbye and to wish him a happy retirement. The Straits Times learned about the farewell that Dr Chan’s patients held for him and went to his clinic to cover the story. The patients told reporters that Dr Chan was a very caring and kind GP, who always took time to listen to their problems, and went out of his way to help them, making house calls to those who could not make the trip to his clinic, often offering his care and medicines at no charge for those who could not afford to pay. He was more than their doctor. He was their friend.
Dr Chan Khye Meng decided that a life spent helping and serving others with his clinical skills and humanity was the way to go. What is your choice? What will be the story at the end of your career?
I will end by asking you three questions you should ask yourself as you go through the next five years:
Why are you doing this?
Who do you want to be?
What do you want to do with your life, when you finally graduate?
The choice and the answers are yours. The consequences of your decision, however, will impact many other people, and for a very long time. I trust that you will choose wisely, and wish every one of you a very enriching career in Medicine, which starts tonight!
Welcome to the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine!
Your lives will never be the same again.”
The Dinner was attended by 280 NUS Medicine freshmen at the College of Alice and Peter Tan Dining Hall.