By Nicole Lim
Assistant Director, Communications & External Relations
An SMS, lunch on Shenton Way, breakfast in Mexico, a derelict building and a flurry of intercontinental exchanges. Those were some of the pivotal ingredients that went into the making of Singapore’s newest medical school and were at the heart of the many anecdotes shared by the speakers who graced the School’s fifth anniversary, celebrated on 1 December at the Experimental Medicine Building (EMB).
Held in a transformed Collaboration Space on level three of the EMB, the celebrations were attended by more than 300 invited guests, NTU, Imperial College London and LKCMedicine senior management, faculty, staff and students as well as leaders from the medical fraternity.
In welcoming the guests, LKCMedicine Dean Professor James Best said, “History matters. Anniversaries matter. Birthdays matter. That is why we have celebrated all year the fact that Singapore became a sovereign nation 50 years ago. And we remember its leaders and its proud achievements. Five years ago on 29 October 2010, an agreement was signed between Nanyang Technological University and Imperial College London and a new medical school in Singapore was conceived. After a short gestation period, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine was born with the first intake of medical students in August 2013. This evening, we remember those events - and those who led the way in forming the School. Being relatively new to Singapore and to LKCMedicine, I look back in admiration at what has been achieved.”
LKCMedicine Dean Prof James Best welcomes the more than 300 guests who attended the fifth anniversary celebrations (left); NTU President Prof Bertil Andersson thanks Prof Jan Carlstedt-Duke, who joined the celebrations via video-conference all the way from Sweden, for his dedication to the medical school project (right)
With anniversaries being a time for reflection, the speakers, including Guest-of-Honour, LKCMedicine Governing Board Chairman Mr Lim Chuan Poh, and NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson, talked about some of the key behind-the-scenes events that led up to the formation of the School.
Prof Andersson, who took to the stage after Prof Best, shared key memories, such as the day he received an SMS inviting him to be on the Committee on the Expansion of the University Sector. After two very substantial items for discussion with tens of pages of background information, right at the end, there was a half-page mention of a new medical school. “The last and absolute smallest part was the new medical school. But right there and then, I said to Mr Koh Boon Hwee, Chairman of the NTU Board of Trustees – and he shared my excitement – that we should just go for the medical school. And that's exactly what we did,” he said.
During his keynote address, Mr Lim added to these anecdotes with his own, recalling the lunch meeting with members of the NTU and Imperial leadership, where he was asked to share his experience of setting up Singapore’s second medical school, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School; and the breakfast meeting in Mexico, where Prof Andersson convinced him to become LKCMedicine’s Chairman. “So of course, I accepted, mainly because I found it very exciting. I always find it very exciting to start something new, to start something that we have never done before and to make it happen.
Documenting these and many other anecdotes, the School unveiled its second coffee table book, Making of a Medical School. To launch it, Mr Lim completed a puzzle of the book’s front cover. The commemorative book details the early developments of Singapore’s newest medical school – a historic partnership between NTU and Imperial. The 184-page book contains reflections from key past and present people, who were and are involved in this landmark project, which represents a major development in medical education and research, as well as healthcare training in Singapore.
LKCMedicine Chairman Mr Lim Chuan Poh signs the launch copy of Making of a Medical School, after completing the puzzle of the book's front cover
When it was clear that NTU would go for the medical school project, the university brought in Professor Jan Carlstedt-Duke, who had just stepped down as Dean of the Karolinska Institutet, to help oversee and drive the medical school project. From initial plans for a graduate-entry medical school with four international partners, the proposal was refined with the inputs from many stakeholders, including former Minister for Education Dr Ng Eng Hen, who emerged as a key driving force. A medical doctor himself, he had a clear vision of what would meet Singapore’s needs best, believing that the new medical school should have only one key partner.
And which university would be better suited than Imperial, which shares many aspects with NTU. Dr Ng said in his interview for the book, “They [Imperial] had managed to fuse this element of engineering and medicine very successfully and they were one of Europe’s leaders, if not world leaders.”
From then, it took 14 months of intense negotiations, frequent intercontinental travel and countless phone and video conferences to bring the two institutions together. The most dramatic moment of the negotiations came at the 11th hour when both sides were in London to agree the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would clear the way for the Collaboration Agreement. Everything had been agreed, apart from a money matter relating to hyperinflation.
Out of ideas, the negotiation teams withdrew to their own spaces to come up with possible solutions. Lead for the Singapore negotiation team Mr Ng Cher Pong, then-Deputy Secretary with the Ministry of Education, recalled in the book, “We reached an agreement only at the very last minute, shortly before Bertil [Andersson] was due at the airport.” So on 7 July 2010, Imperial and NTU signed the MOU and the Collaboration Agreement followed soon after.
At the signing ceremony of the Collaboration Agreement, NTU and Imperial also announced that Mr Lim, A*Star Chairman and member of the NTU Board of Trustees, would take on the role of Chairman of the fledgling school. Speaking at the anniversary event, Mr Lim recalled saying, “This medical school is going to work because all the three institutions involved are incomplete and imperfect.”
NTU had long aspired to have its own medical school, Imperial was looking for the right opportunity to launch its internationalisation effort in a big way, and the National Healthcare Group wanted to be paired with a medical school to drive their academic ambitions. “Precisely because all three of them were imperfect and incomplete and lacking that common factor, that’s when I realised that this medical school will be embraced by all the partners. With the medical school, they will feel complete. And I think over these five years, this has proven to be exactly why the medical school worked,” said Mr Lim.
In the three years that followed the signing of the Collaboration Agreement, the nascent school’s leadership, faculty and staff developed and built the School’s hard- and software, from the physical spaces, curriculum, e-learning ecosystem and research strategy to the branding and myriad back-end processes that would ensure the successful launch of the School – all of which are documented in the coffee table book. On launching the book, Mr Lim said, “I am pleased that this book captures all these and more, such as the contributions of the different teams that work on developing the School’s vision and mission; innovative and technology-enhanced curriculum; recruitment and research strategy; and infrastructure development plan.”
During the same period of development, the School also went from being the NTU-Imperial College Medical School to the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, in recognition of the historical donation of $150 million from the Lee Foundation. This landmark gift, too, took 14 months to secure. Looking back now, there was no better name for the new school. Prof James Best wrote in his Preface to the book, “Indeed, [the School’s] ethos of educating doctors who will advance the science and practice of medicine for the good of humanity is also reflected in our very name as the late Tan Sri Dato Lee Kong Chian was a great philanthropist and humanitarian.”
After three years of hard graft, the School opened its doors to welcome its inaugural cohort. The 54 students excelled not only in their school-leaving exams, but also in the BioMedical Admissions Test and the School’s novel interview approach – the Multiple Mini Interviews. Since then, they have been joined by two cohorts of 168 students, bringing the student body to 222.
While the first few cohorts had their lessons in the newly refurbished heritage Headquarters building in Novena and in the retrofitted Research Techno Plaza, the third cohort is the first to enjoy the bespoke teaching facilities in the EMB, which will be a hallmark of LKCMedicine for many years to come.
Imperial President Professor Alice Gast, who joined the fifth anniversary celebrations via video, congratulated the School on its milestone. “What we have achieved in five years is a testimony to the power of great foundations, great people and great partners. I salute all across NTU and Imperial who worked so hard to make LKCMedicine a success,” she said.
LKCMedicine celebrates its fifth anniversary with a hand-crafted cake in the shape of the School's heritage Headquarters and modern three-storey Annex
The anniversary wouldn’t have been complete without a cake. An 80cm cake in the shape of the School’s historical Headquarters building was a fitting centrepiece for the milestone celebration. Mr Lim was joined by Prof Andersson, Prof Best, Deputy Chairman of the Lee Foundation Dr Lee Seng Tee, Imperial’s Faculty of Medicine Vice-Dean for Education Professor Desmond Johnston, National Healthcare Group Deputy Group CEO Associate Professor Chua Hong Choon, and LKCMedicine’s four Vice-Deans. Together with Prof Andersson, Prof Best and Dr Lee, he cut the cake.
L-R: LKCMedicine Vice-Dean for Research Prof Philip Ingham FRS, Executive Vice-Dean Prof Lionel Lee, Governing Board Member Prof Lee Eng Hin, Lee Foundation Deputy Chairman Dr Lee Seng Tee, NTU President Prof Bertil Andersson, LKCMedicine Governing Board Chairman Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Dean Prof James Best, Imperial Faculty of Medicine Vice-Dean for Education and LKCMedicine Governing Board Member Prof Desmond Johnston, National Healthcare Group Deputy Group CEO Assoc Prof Chua Hong Choon , LKCMedicine Vice-Dean for Education Assoc Prof Naomi Low-Beer and Vice-Dean for Clinical Affairs Assoc Prof Pang mark the fifth anniversary of the medical school
To wish the School a happy birthday, guests were encouraged to pen their thoughts and messages which were displayed on a wishing wall. Many wishes echoed the School’s ethos, showing that despite its young age, it is defining itself successfully against the backdrop of other medical schools here and abroad. Representative of most wishes, Prof Andersson wished LKCMedicine “to be the medical school of choice – the best education, the best research and that the region will speak Swedish.” The last may just be wishful thinking, but to the former, everyone will surely raise a toast.
Happy birthday, LKCMedicine!