June 2015 | Issue 18

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LKCMedicine making a global impact

By Adeline Ang​
The LKCMedicine Guest Editor


What is the measure of a good medical school? Conventional thinking would say: one that produces good doctors. It takes a lot to make a good doctor these days – as much as it takes a village to raise a child, one could say that it takes the whole world to produce an excellent medical professional.​

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NTU President Prof Bertil Andersson (left) & Former President & Rector of Imperial Sir Keith O'Nions (right) at the LKCMedicine Tree Planting Ceremony held last year to commerate the partnership between the two universities

LKCMedicine is unique in Singapore (and possibly the world), in that it has had this international approach from its very inception. Our 'mixed' parentage – NTU and Imperial College London – ensures that this principle of reaching out to the community and the world at large is very much part of our DNA.

Says Dean of LKCMedicine, Professor James Best, "Medical education and research are both international endeavours these days. We learn from and contribute to  the rest of the world. This way, students become better doctors – it gives them that open-mindedness to embrace new discoveries and therapies. Having that international outlook enables Singapore to adopt new treatments and evaluate them locally, as they are discovered."

One could say this global approach is also very much in keeping with the national character of Singapore: enabling us to have a significant influence internationally, well beyond what our physical size in the region and around the world might suggest that we are able to do. There are very lofty expectations for LKCMedicine to perform at the highest level in research and education, and to advance the field in education.​​

Executive Vice-Dean, Administration Professor Lionel Lee adds,  "A medical school is a national asset. In the same way that Singapore always operates, LKCMedicine has to set a high standard for itself. So it is a requirement for our medical school to be world class – both in terms of academic excellence and research.

"With LKCMedicine we were able to devise our curriculum totally from scratch, without any 'legacy issues', which would make it difficult to do something new. We thought of what we always wanted to be taught when we were medical students, but never got a chance."

One might ask: why is having an international outlook and setup important for a medical school? Is medicine not just about treating ill patients and making them better? Does internationalisation make for better doctors and researchers?

International ties afford access to a range of expertise and facilities that cannot be offered by a single institution. By collaborating with other universities and organisations worldwide, LKCMedicine faculty and students alike can tap on the different perspectives of medical education experts, clinicians and scientists from all over the world.

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The School's international faculty provides a global outlook that​ spearheads healthcare innovation

Professor Philip Ingham, Vice Dean, Research elaborates, "Diseases do not respect national boundaries and the battle to control and eradicate them is an international one. It is therefore not only desirable but also essential for a medical school to have an international outlook, because lessons learned in one country are sure to have application in others.

"This is true not just for the treatment of diseases, but also for the development of strategies to promote healthier living. Scientific research is fundamentally a global enterprise and depends upon the free and rapid exchange of data between scientists wherever they are located."

An example of such international cooperation is the collaboration between NTU and Loughborough University School of Sport, Exercise & Health Sciences to form the Institute of Sports Research (ISR).  Working together, scientists and engineers from LKCMedicine, Institute of Sports Research (ISR), School of Material Science and Engineering (MSE), and School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) take advantage of our combined expertise to develop strategies for the enhancement of a healthy society for Singapore, including how to enhance the performance of skeletal and cardiac muscle in relation to disease, ageing and rehabilitation; and how metabolism, diet and genetics impact on performance in a variety of settings and for different population groups, including National Servicemen, senior citizens and athletes.

LKCMedicine has made a good start in building ties with premier universities and research institutions around the world. Imperial College London was of course the first and it continues to be a key partner in delivering the curriculum and research collaborations of mutual interest, but we have also established links with other institutions of similar standing, such as the Karolinska Institutet, and the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

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More than 450 scientists and researchers from across Singapore attended the EMBO Gold Medallist Symposium 2015 jointly organised by LKCMedicine and A*STAR; EMBO Director Prof Maria Leptin with Chairman of A*STAR and LKCMedicine Governing Board Mr Lim Chuan Poh at the symposium

Our teaching and research faculty is very international in its makeup – rather than 'poaching' locally and taking away from existing local capabilities, we have added expertise from all over the world, and these faculty members bring with them links to their own institutes of origin, as well as ties to prestigious international organisations of which they are members. One major example is the natural relationship which LKCMedicine has developed with the prestigious international life-science research organisation EMBO, by virtue of the fact that five members of our faculty are elected Members of this organisation. The second Singapore EMBO Gold Medallist Symposium was recently organised by Prof Ingham and his colleagues. Click here for more information on the Symposium and here for our interview with EMBO Director Maria Leptin.

As we grow we are looking also to develop ties in the Asia-Pacific region: for example, in addition to our existing European partners, we are working on arrangements to send our Fifth Year MBBS students on electives to Christian Medical College in India, University of Health Sciences in Cambodia, Melbourne Medical School, and the University of Western Australia, to name a few. China is, of course, a natural choice for developing of ties – NTU having very strong links with China and having many alumni there, as well as Prof Best's existing strong links with some medical schools in China, provide us with excellent opportunities to build relationships there.

Have there been early signs of success from this international push? The signing of Memoranda of Understanding are significant measures of achievement, but more important is what happens after the paperwork is done. Prof Best explains, "What we want is relationships that will have outcomes. To be an effective partnership, you need multiple strands at different levels to form a strong link: student electives, joint PhDs, post-doctoral exchanges, reciprocal visits and research presentations and seminars, research collaborations, as well as strong relations at senior leadership levels."

Says Prof Ingham, "The real value of such links is in the personal interactions between individual educators and researchers. These are best built from the bottom-up through shared interests and cooperation in funding applications and supervision of staff and students. It is relatively easy to build such relationships, through reciprocal visits or even remotely by e-mail contact and SKYPE conversations."

In this vein, LKCMedicine is pleased to partner with the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT). STINT promotes exchanges between Swedish and foreign universities in research and education, and provides funding for educators from leading Swedish institutions to spend a semester on teaching sabbatical in selected foreign universities.

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Prof Nilsson speaking to the Year 1s during Polyclinic Week
In 2014, we were pleased to host Professor Gunnar Nilsson, Karolinska Institutet's (KI) incoming Pro-Dean of Higher Education, for a semester under the auspices of STINT. He had selected LKCMedicine as his university of choice, because of our student-centred approach to medical education, Team-Based Learning (TBL) and innovative use of technology, which he aimed to learn from and apply in KI upon his return.

Another way to gauge if we are reaping rewards from these efforts perhaps can be seen from our ability to, as Prof Lee puts it, attract deputations from medical schools and research institutes all over the world who came to Singapore to better understand our unique curriculum and approach to medical education.  Specifically, since our inception a mere few years ago, we have experienced an increasing influx of visits from institutions around the world, who have great interest in learning how we are able to bring the best of the East and the West together in a true partnership. Says Prof Best, "Other schools are excited about it and want to partner with us. People are impressed with what we are doing."

More importantly, these visits have started conversations between us and practitioners around the world, for future collaborations in education and research as well as corporate or administrative expertise.

All this bodes well for LKCMedicine's vision to redefine medicine and transform healthcare – not only on a local level but on a global scale.