News: Topping the Class of 2020

Six students topped the Class of 2020, a cohort that has already distinguished itself with its resilience in the face of unprecedented changes caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic. The students shared 11 prizes, medals and awards between them, including a newly introduced prize from the Singapore Medical Association for Best Scholarly Project. The LKCMedicine spoke to the winners.

From waitlisted to Valedictorian
Kiasu (afraid to miss out) and kancheong (anxious) that’s how Dr Ong Kim Yao felt when he thought about studying medicine. “So I applied to both LKCMedicine and Yong Loo Lin,” he said and was waitlisted for both. In the weeks that followed, Dr Ong checked the status of his application at every opportunity, hoping to see it change from waitlisted to accepted.

“Those few weeks made me realise that Medicine is what I wanted to do and how much I wanted to do it,” he said.

Five years later, Dr Ong graduated top of his class from LKCMedicine. “I didn’t expect to receive this great honour and privilege. I am truly humbled,” said Dr Ong. “I will try my very best to live up to this title and do my batch and LKCMedicine proud.”

Dr Ong Kim Yao, whose medical school journey went from waitlisted to Valedictorian, is now a Postgraduate Year 1 doctor working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital

Not only did Dr Ong earn the honour of being Valedictorian, he also demonstrated academic excellence that earned him the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal, the most prestigious honour awarded by NTU. 

Despite these honours, Dr Ong remains humble. “Several classmates are more capable, well-rounded and exceptional than me,” he insists, attributing his success during medical school to the patients he encountered, tutors, faculty, seniors, family and friends without whose support and guidance he wouldn’t have survived the last five years. 

“Without friends and family, the successes would have been less meaningful and the disappointments more painful,” he said. 

Adding to his top honours, Dr Ong also received the Anthony SC Teo – Gordon Johnson Medal for his top marks in clinical skills exams during Years 3 to 5 and the Chee Yam Cheng Gold Medal in Professionalism, Ethics, Law, Leadership and Safety (PELLS) for the best essay on the topic.

Looking back at his time in medical school, Dr Ong said the most memorable experience came when Singapore raised its alert level to orange in the face of the growing Covid-19 pandemic. All clinical-based teaching had to be shifted to campus, including the Student Assistantship Programme Dr Ong was on. 

“Our batch came together and worked alongside the faculty to create a modified campus-based posting for the juniors alongside finishing our campus-based SAP. I loved the fact that our whole batch was involved and nobody was left out, that we were able to contribute amidst the crisis. It ended the academic year and the whole medical school journey on a very special note for me,” he said.

Exceptional leadership and character
Dr Ong, along with his classmate Dr Reudi Chan, also received the Koh Boon Hwee Scholars Award for exceptional leadership and character. 

Dr Chan, who was honoured to be recognised, said, “I am very much drawn to the spirit of education behind the award.” He nominated LKCMedicine Assistant Dean for Year 4 Associate Professor Wong Teck Yee whose attitude to education and medicine Dr Chan described as “infectious”, and Ms Lim Leng Er from Raffles Institution (RI) who played a significant role in his personal development. 

Dr Reudi Chan (at the 8 o'clock position) with fellow Lim Boon Keng House students and tutor

“I have benefitted from so many mentors at RI, LKCMedicine and on my hospital postings that I would have nominated more if I could. One of the best things about the School’s culture is this pay-it-forward attitude and I hope to carry on this legacy.”

Dr Chan also received the Low Cheng Hock Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Surgery. While he enjoyed observing surgeries during his medical school training, Dr Chan has yet to decide on what specialty to pursue for his career. 

“I think the experiences in my postings will influence my career choices,” said Dr Chan.

Treating the patient, not the disease
Unlike Dr Chan, Dr Koo Jian Hui already has an inkling where his career in medicine may take him.
“My first love is internal medicine, which is broad and fascinating,” said Dr Koo, who is keen to explore specialties like medical oncology where advances in diagnostics and care have had a huge influence on patients’ disease. “Being able to walk with patients during the most difficult time of their lives is a privilege that few other careers can provide.”

Dr Koo is being conferred two awards – the Toh Kian Chui Gold Medal, awarded for outstanding achievement in Year 5, and the Chew Chin Hin Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Medicine.

Dr Koo Jian Hui talks to a resident during a student-organised health screening in the Pek Kio neighbourhood

Receiving these honours meant a great deal to Dr Koo. “It was an extremely pleasant surprise. At the same time, I know that I was only able to achieve all this because of dedicated tutors who took time out of their busy schedules to teach us. One day, I hope to make a difference to [the next generation of] medical students too,” he said. 

Recognition from professional bodies
Three more students have also been honoured by professional bodies. Receiving the Academy of Medicine, Singapore Medal was a big and pleasant surprise for Dr Alex Tanoto Lim. Nominations for this award, which recognises qualities including compassion, leadership and independence, opened just as Singapore raised its alert level to orange and all clinical teaching had to be brought back to campus. 

As the student body supported the faculty to create campus-based simulated bedside tutorials and ward rounds, Dr Lim’s role as one of the organisers and contact point for faculty made him stand out among his peers.

Reflecting on the peer-teaching programme they developed, Dr Lim, who had served on the LKCMedSoc Academic Committee since his second year at LKCMedicine, said, “We have never done something on such a large scale, and especially for multiple batches, at once.” 

Dr Alex Tanoto Lim (back right) has a passion for teaching that extends beyond the borders of Singapore

Dr Lim drew on all his experience of peer-teaching and organising mock exams and Observed Structured Clinical Exams (OSCEs), events for which he worked closely with other students who shared his passion for education.

“I hope the sense of achievement after organising a teaching session or mock exam inspires them to continue teaching and giving back. It gives me great pride in having contributed to LKCMedicine’s education culture,” he said. 

Joining Dr Lim among the award winners is Dr Lee Jie Qi, who received the College of Family Physicians Singapore Prize in Family Medicine for his essay on “The Role of Family Physicians in a Pandemic”. Dr Lee argued that as first points of contact, family physicians play a key role in triaging patients. 

Dr Lee Jie Qi (second from right) with his Team-Based Learning team

“Family physicians play an essential strategic role in the fight against disease in both peacetime and the event of a public health crisis,” said Dr Lee whose interest in family medicine was sparked while on his family medicine posting.

The diversity of patients, the mix of chronic and acute health conditions as well as the diagnostic challenges faced by family physicians are all factors that attract Dr Lee to the specialty. But above all, he appreciates the close relationship family physicians develop with their patients.

“During my FM posting, it was nice to see family physicians treat multiple generations of family members and engage in friendly conversations with their long-time patients during consults,” said the young doctor.

The newest honour was the inaugural prize for the best scholarly project from the Singapore Medical Association, which went to Dr Joelle Chong for her Scholarly Project done back in Year 4. In her project, she developed a quantitative explanation of the correlation between weight, obstructive sleep apnoea and continuous positive airway pressure in children. She was drawn to the topic because previous studies focused on adult populations. For the aspiring paediatrician, answering an open question in children was a ‘natural choice’. 

Dr Joelle Chong (left) receives a best project award from LKCMedicine Vice-Dean for Education Professor Naomi Low-Beer for her Scholarly Project in 2019

While her Scholarly Project may have concluded in Year 4, Dr Chong continued to work on the topic presenting her findings at local and international conferences including at the 18th International Congress on Paediatric Pulmonology in Japan and the European Respiratory Society’s 2019 International Congress in Spain. 

“Being able to exchange ideas and knowledge with renowned paediatricians from all over the world was truly humbling and inspired me to pursue research in the paediatrics field,” said Dr Chong, whose paper was published in the peer-reviewed European Respiratory Journal in March.