October 2015 | Issue 20
Finding the right fit
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By Nicole Lim
Assistant Director, Communications & External Relations

It may be smack bang in the middle of pre-university exams, but that hasn't stopped a record number of students now signing up to sit the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) this year with an eye to applying to LKCMedicine. At the close of the standard entry period on 1 October, more than 950 students had registered for the exam.

Now a Year 2 student at LKCMedicine, Tan Guan Zhong knows exactly how many of them are feeling as he, too, sat for the BMAT during his A Levels. In fact, the BMAT was the day before his General Paper A Level. "For my other friends it was worse! It was the day before their Biology A Level," said Guan Zhong.

In the end the toughest part of the exam was the timing and not the content. "Looking back, I'm thankful I took the BMAT during my A level year. The fact that I was already in exam mood for the better part of the year meant that it wasn't as tough as taking it during Army," added Guan Zhong.

Vice-Dean (Education), Assoc Prof Naomi Low-Beer speaking with parents

More than just learning
But what makes LKCMedicine worth the effort? For many prospective students and their parents, the School's innovative curriculum with early patient contact and strong clinical relevance as well as its Team-Based Learning (TBL) approach are key highlights. One parent of a Victoria Junior College student remarked at a recent engagement session held by the School that the practical teaching methods were appealing, especially the "interactive group discussions, [which] are so unlike old teaching techniques and encourage openness", a sentiment echoed by many other parents.

Rebekah Lee, a Year 2 student at LKCMedicine, agrees. For her, one of the best things about the School is the TBL approach. "During TBL sessions, we are constantly engaged. The questions prepared by content experts [the School's clinicians and faculty], push us to apply our knowledge, so that whatever we learn, sticks. I enjoy the TBL experience because I feel like I'm not just going through the motions; I truly understand and learn," said Rebekah. The presence of the clinicians and scientists at each of these TBL sessions ensures knowledge transmitted and gained is relevant and contextualised.

Teachers from various junior colleges try their hand at TBL during a demonstration by the School

Adopting TBL as the main teaching approach throughout the five years of the MBBS course was a defining decision the LKCMedicine curriculum team arrived at after careful review of the existing evidence, and witnessing and experiencing the methodology in action. Vice-Dean for Education Associate Professor Naomi Low-Beer, said that the growing body of evidence from the medical education literature shows that "students who have learned through TBL tend to perform better in exams. It also helps them establish lifelong learning and communication skills."

While switching to TBL was a change for many faculty members, who come from teaching hospitals across Singapore, including Tan Tock Seng Hospital, they drew upon their wealth of teaching experience to adapt to the new system. Lead for Infectious Diseases and GI, Blood and Infection Teaching Block Lead Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian said, "I was initially very sceptical about TBL." But after trying her hand at it, this veteran clinician-educator, who has spent more than 20 years in academic medical centres, changed her mind. "The critical skill is not regurgitating facts for an exam – it is applying knowledge to solve complex medical problems. They do need to learn those facts – there's no getting around that. But for the brave new world these young doctors are entering, TBL teaches them to think on their feet, and to function as healthy teams," said Assoc Prof Lim.

With three cohorts admitted, the teaching faculty is already seeing the TBL approach pay off. "Our attendance at TBL classes is more than 98 per cent and students' exam performance has been excellent," said Assoc Prof Low-Beer. In addition, with the inaugural cohort moving into their clinical years, the School has also received feedback from healthcare professionals about students' behaviour. "Reports from medical, nursing and allied health staff regarding the behaviour and performance of our students with patients and members of the multi-professional team have been extremely positive," said Assoc Prof Low-Beer.

And for the students, the benefits of TBL extend far beyond the classroom. Rebekah said, "We can study at our own pace, which allows us to pause, understand, and grasp the concepts properly before moving on. I love it that our timetable is very flexible. We enjoy great latitude and freedom in scheduling our own pre-TBL preparation study time, so that we can still pursue other interests."

While the students may do a lot of the learning outside of class, the structured nature of the TBL sessions means that everyone meets the learning objectives. "Unlike a lecture course where you have no idea what students have learned or understood, every TBL class starts with an individual quiz and we can monitor these individual scores over time," said Assoc Prof Low-Beer.

Built for learning
Being a new medical school also meant that the School's infrastructure team started with a blank slate when it came to facilities for the dual campus. With the unique opportunity to create bespoke teaching and research facilities, the team developed state-of-the-art facilities that enhance the learning and working environment for everyone at the School. Director of Operations and Resources Mr Tan Hee Kiang said, "The dual campus will be a landmark in Singapore's education landscape. It has been our ambition to build a modern campus with state-of-the-art buildings and facilities, designed specially to promote collaborative learning and interaction among staff, students and researchers, as well as advancing research collaborations across groups. Our key facilities support the School's integrated curriculum and pedagogy using small and large group interactive seminars, Team-Based Learning, extensive use of e-learning and clinical simulation."  

LKCMedicine hosted close to 300 parents at the Experimental Medicine Building's Learning Studio during a recent engagement session

These bespoke facilities are a big attraction for many parents of prospective students. An added bonus is that students enjoy these across two campuses, at the NTU main campus in Yunnan Garden and Novena. One parent of a Hwa Chong Institution student, felt that the downtown campus is a big plus for the School. And to manage travel between campuses, the School provides complimentary shuttle bus services to take students from one venue to another.

It is not just the learning facilities that are brand new at LKCMedicine. For students choosing to stay on campus, hall rooms are guaranteed for all five years in NTU's newest residential halls, which are already bustling hives of student activity. For the students, knowing that their classmates and seniors are just down the hallway if they need help or study tips is comforting. And there's always someone around for a quick game.

"The WhatsApp groups we have for sports such as frisbee and soccer make it easy for us to put the word out when we feel like having a recreational game," wrote Year 2 student Padigepati Siddarth Reddy in a previous issue of this newsletter (read more about Sid's experience here in his Dear Diary column).

Small school, big spirit
With seniors and peers just doors away, the LKCMedicine student community is a close-knit one. Guan Zhong said, "Studying at LKCMedicine offers an experience that cannot be compared with other schools and faculties. Because of the sense of solidarity and small size of the batch, it feels more like a JC [junior college] class than a school cohort where there are people you do not know even after two years. It's this sense of community that cannot be found elsewhere."

Assoc Prof Low-Beer added, "When students join us, they are not only embarking on a five-year degree course, they are also joining the medical profession. This is both a privilege and a responsibility. To this end, we have put in place a House Tutor System which serves to mentor, support and provide a sense of community."

LKCMedicine's House System allocates personal Tutors, who are clinicians, scientists and other teaching staff, to individual students for guidance and mentorship. At the start of their studies, students are assigned for the duration of the course to one of five Houses, which are named after luminary figures who have impacted the history and profession of medicine.

And there's also plenty of room to innovate and introduce School traditions, an area the School's Medical Society (MedSoc) also plays a key role in. Its president and Year 2 Goh Kang Shiong said, "The aim of the student medical society is to provide multifaceted opportunities for students to find their own niche area, whether that be representing LKCMedicine at sporting events, contributing to community development both local and overseas and even leading ground-up initiatives that will enliven the LKCMedicine experience."

This sense of community is not just confined to the students, but includes faculty and staff at the School too. Faculty and content experts serve as "role models with their passion and values, and always show concern for you", said Guan Zhong. Small things from knowing students by name, taking an interest in student welfare and striking up conversations at events creates ties that enrich the LKCMedicine experience. "Be it in the context of the classroom or in the hospital setting, they are always eager to share their experience and impart knowledge," added Guan Zhong.

An imperial connection
Another key highlight for prospective students and their parents is the Imperial connection. For one Tampines Junior College student the partnership with Imperial was an attraction as this could provide access to a wide range of resources and opportunities. A student from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) echoed a similar feeling, saying that the collaboration with Imperial gives him the assurance that LKCMedicine provides a world-class education.

With NTU and Imperial holding a stake in the LKCMedicine MBBS programme, both are fully committed to ensuring that LKCMedicine operates to the highest standards of education. Deputy Director of Education Management at the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial Mr Paul Ratcliffe said, "In ensuring these standards are met, we have jointly created a number of academic, examination and student regulations, along with quality assurance procedures, to assure the quality of the course. We are also careful to ensure that such mechanisms comply with the requirements of NTU, Imperial and relevant regulatory bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency in the UK, the Ministry of Education in Singapore and the Singapore Medical Council."

Indeed, the connection with Imperial has played a key part in many students' decision making process. Adam Mohamed Naveeth bin Adam Rabbani, a Year 2 student, said, "I decided to join LKCMedicine because the School has an innovative curriculum developed by a solid team of experts. A partnership between two very established institutions, NTU and Imperial, LKCMedicine gives me the assurance that I am receiving a quality medical education."

But the ties that bind the two universities are not just at an institutional level. While some students may choose to spend their Year 5 overseas elective at Imperial, the School is also setting up an annual programme of exchanges for around 10 Year 2 LKCMedicine students and their counterparts at Imperial.

Assoc Prof Low-Beer said, "We are very excited about this and believe it will be the start of a number of exchange programmes between the Schools. The Professor Jenny Higham Award will enable both Imperial and LKCMedicine students to benefit from these exchanges, which will strengthen the unique identity of LKCMedicine as a joint medical school."

Kang Shiong, who has been involved in the planning of the programme, said, "I'm especially excited to partake in the discussions regarding a possible student exchange programme with Imperial. Such an exchange serves to strengthen the Imperial brand that LKCMedicine can be proud of, as well as build meaningful connections between both institutions."

Young but caring
While some are concerned about the School's relative youth, at the very core of LKCMedicine lies a fundamental and age-old truth – that medicine is as much an art as it is a science. By learning the fundamental science in systems and applying it to real-life clinical scenarios throughout their years of study, students are encouraged to understand that nothing happens in isolation and the 'best' solution is not always the right one.

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LKCMedicine's newest cohort recite the declaration of a new medical student at the White Coat Ceremony held in August

LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best summed this up at the recent White Coat Ceremony by saying, "The knowledge and skills you acquire during the medical course will come not just through books, or rather iPads, but through your encounters with patients, their suffering and their challenges. You will share in the lives of others when they are vulnerable and needy."

When Ang Wee Kiat told his parents that he'll accept a place in LKCMedicine's inaugural cohort, his parents were elated, but also apprehensive of the challenges he was going to face, such as the high workload and the School's new teaching style.

Three years on, Wee Kiat has entered the clinical years and is going from strength to strength. His father, Mr Ang Eng Wah, said, "We are proud of him and have seen how he has dealt with the challenges he faced and through those challenges, grown as a person through the course of medical school so far."

His mother, Ms Veronica Chua, added, "He has become a pillar of strength for the family members. He has grown to be professional and to carry himself well in different situations. His involvement in extra-curricular activities such as Project Daya (an overseas community involvement project in Batam organised by students) has also given him a different perspective on community development and doctoring." 

With a significant number of students having had more than one offer to choose from, many, like Guan Zhong and Rebekah, are clear – LKCMedicine is the choice for them. "Like many others in my batch, I had a choice. I chose LKCMedicine, and I haven't regretted it since," said Rebekah.