April 2013|ISSUE 5
Finding Dr Right

By Wahida Hussain and Sufian Suderman

‘Redefining medicine, transforming healthcare’ is the clarion call of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and with the School’s inauguration less than four months away, the initial work to turn this noble vision into practical reality has indeed been a mammoth undertaking, from getting ready a world-class teaching infrastructure and developing a top-notch curriculum to hiring exemplary individuals to steer the School in the right direction. Three years in the making and the stage is finally set. Our pioneer batch of 54 students due to arrive in August will form another important piece of the puzzle.

Of course, the task of nurturing outstanding doctors for tomorrow begins with identifying the right students. Separating the wheat from the chaff is thus an essential process, and one that is spearheaded by LKCMedicine’s admissions team.

“Our goal in admissions is to identify Singapore’s brightest talents for the healthcare demands of the 21st century,” says Professor John Laycock, Assistant Dean of Admissions, who is also the Admissions Tutor and Professor of Endocrine Physiology at Imperial College London.

“The rigour put in place when selecting applicants helps us in assessing a student’s potential and promise to thrive under demanding conditions as a doctor,” he adds. 

At LKCMedicine, selection for entry is not purely based on academic ability – the selection team also looks at a student’s motivation for learning, interest in medicine and science, empathy and sense of otherness, as well the potential to benefit from the experience and to contribute to the programme. Simply put, the School is looking for students who demonstrate exemplary aptitude and attitude.  

The Aptitude Test
The requisite pre-university qualification is the School’s starting point when identifying suitable candidates for its programme. Students who exhibit excellence in academia offer some indication of their intellectual imagination, scientific understanding, mental calibre and capacity to undertake an intellectually demanding course like medicine. In addition, the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), one of the mandatory components when applying to the School, has been found to provide information about a student’s aptitude for medicine and is a good predictor of a student’s performance in a medical school.

“Standardised tests such as BMAT provide a fair and tangible method of evaluating a prospective student’s strength of mind,” explains Professor Laycock.

Such standardised tests, alongside pre-university exams, measure quantitative ability, critical thinking and depth of knowledge in subject-specific areas. Applicants are ranked according to their academic performance, providing a computable and meritocratic way of discerning the brightest students.

Yet one may argue that such methods can only partially predict a student’s performance in the programme. They do not show for example, a student's affinity for values the School holds in high esteem, such as humility, integrity, compassion, professionalism, and capacity for continuous learning.

Application Process

The Attitude Test
The LKCMedicine admissions team, therefore, has to identify applicants who show strength and depth of character, and demonstrate the values upheld by the School. The personal statement, official school testimonial and two referee reports required when applying to LKCMedicine are thus essential as they reveal more about the kind of student each applicant is and how he or she approaches learning beyond the classroom.

As such, LKCMedicine applies a more expansive view of excellence. Director of Academic Support, Ms Ruth Choe, who oversees the selection process, says, “While we acknowledge that test scores  offer some indication of a student’s academic promise, their personal statements help us understand, to a certain extent, a student’s real desire to study medicine and their appreciation of medicine as a profession.”

Applicants who show promise in their application are shortlisted for the Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI), where they complete a series of eight mini interviews, each lasting approximately five minutes, conducted consecutively in eight separate interview rooms. The eight interviewers consist of faculty, clinicians, allied health professionals and lay people who have all undergone training to ensure parity when assessing candidates. The interviews are designed to identify nuanced thinkers who have a strong degree of social consciousness and interpersonal skills.

“The MMI uses a series of stations to assess specific skills and qualities and assigns the same type of interviewer to rate all applicants at a station with that specific question or scenario. This method helps to address some of the weaknesses of the standard interview format,” says Professor Laycock.

For our first intake, the School received over 800 applications, from which 440 applicants were shortlisted for the MMI that began on 8 April 2013. Ms Choe adds, “We just completed 10 days of MMI, and I’m delighted to report that the interviewers have been impressed by the quality of candidates who in the main, show maturity in thought and action. Their MMI performance will be rated, alongside their  BMAT scores and referee reports, and by the last week of April, we will be issuing offers for places in LKCMedicine’s MBBS programme.”

Assistant Director of Admissions, Mr Tan Kia Yen, also gives his take on the School’s MMI experience, “Despite being new to Singapore, the MMIs were handled well by the students – they appeared to be more comfortable with the strictly-timed format as they progressed through the eight interview stations. Students and parents who came also gave feedback that they were impressed with the programme which has been specially crafted for them.” Mr Tan shares that, to provide a more engaging experience for the candidates, the MMI day programme included an immersive experience in Team-Based Learning (the main teaching method at LKCMedicine) as well as a campus tour, conducted after the students completed their interviews.

The Executive Vice-Dean of LKCMedicine, Professor Lionel Lee, says running the MMI has been a rewarding experience for the School.

“The interviews were conducted smoothly, where all the administrative and logistics needs were delivered so splendidly. It was a testimony to our staff and faculty’s passion that the MMIs were conducted in such an effective and efficient manner. Singapore has not only learnt much from this experience. Singaporeans are set to benefit from this innovative approach of selecting students.”

Selecting the Best
Identifying a candidate with the right attitude and exceptional aptitude is evidently more an art than a science. With hundreds of local and international talents vying for limited spots, each application is examined with care, discretion and humility.

“Our rigorous comparative process strives to be deliberate, meticulous and fair. We are, essentially, tasked to ascertain outstanding individuals who will advance the science and practice of medicine for the good of humanity,” says Professor Laycock.

The School, set to nurture the best of Singapore’s talent to meet healthcare demands of the 21st century, welcomes applicants from diverse backgrounds to promote vibrancy in its academic culture.

The thoroughness employed at the admissions level is indeed a positive indicator that LKCMedicine will attract students who are exceptionally strong across the board and are by definition, well-rounded. The energy, dedication and commitment invested to identify the right students will ensure that LKCMedicine graduates will be the doctors you and I would like to have caring for us.

Qualities of LKCMedicine's Dr Right