June 2017 | Issue 30

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Meet Assoc Prof Nandini Rao: Having a head and heart for teaching

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 By Sean Firoz, Senior Executive, Communications & External Relations 

The internet has transformed the way we access information. New knowledge is now just a click or swipe away and medical education is no exception. With so much information available, the role of teachers has never been more central to students' learning, believes Associate Professor Nandini Rao, LKCMedicine clinical tutor and lead for pathology.

"Teachers are there to guide you through that vast amount of knowledge and build on the foundation," she said.

Living up to her passion for teaching, Assoc Prof Rao recently received the Nanyang Education Award in recognition for her excellent teaching practices and enrichment of students' learning experiences.

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Assoc Prof Nandini Rao is a proud recipient of the Nanyang Education Award for her excellent teaching practices

But what makes Assoc Prof Rao such a respected teacher at LKCMedicine?

Born and raised in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, the young Assoc Prof Rao relished the many hiking trips she took with her father, which later developed into a passion for biology and life sciences. This passion led her to the Bangalore Medical College & Research Institute to pursue her MBBS.

As someone who thrives on strong bonds with others, Assoc Prof Rao considered paediatrics as a specialty. But knowing how easily she forms an emotional bond, she opted for a different path. Ultimately, the visual nature of pathology inspired her to take up the speciality. Looking at cells and tissues under the microscope and correlating them with patients' clinical findings to make a diagnosis is like solving a puzzle, making it a very interesting speciality with diagnostic and research possibilities.

 "I like art, and pathology is a field about colours and images after all," said Assoc Prof Rao.

 

A worldwide education

After completing both her MBBS and pathology residency, Assoc Prof Rao married and moved to the UK where her husband was working in a surgical speciality. Working first in Glasgow, then Newcastle, Assoc Prof Rao had both exhilarating and eye-opening experiences, as she got to know more about healthcare in the UK while raising her two young children at the time.

"What stuck with me was the fact that in the departments I worked in, the people were so passionate about what they were doing, whether you were a consultant or a lab assistant," said Assoc Prof Rao.

Working at different hospitals across the UK, Assoc Prof Rao was able to further diversify her knowledge and experience from what she had seen in India.

But, it was not all sunshine and roses juggling working in a foreign land and raising two young children. Assoc Prof Rao tried to keep a balanced lifestyle that allowed her to see her family at night and work in a field that she loves. Looking back, she wonders how she managed to survive those hectic days in the UK, but she certainly had the time of her life.

"They were some of the happiest times for me," recalls Assoc Prof Rao.

After spending 13 years in the UK, the family uprooted for her husband's career, this time to Singapore. This offered exciting opportunities for Assoc Prof Rao, who joined TTSH's pathology department, and despite being new to Singapore, Assoc Prof Rao had no issue fitting in.

"Just like in UK, these were accredited labs and everything was done in a methodical way, so it didn't feel like a big difference," said Assoc Prof Rao. "As long as it's pathology I'm doing, I'm happy wherever I am."

After a gruelling day in the hospital, Assoc Prof Rao looks forward to spending quality time with her family, indulging in her favourite past times such as cooking and going for walks at MacRitchie reservoir, echoing her excursions with her dad as a young child.

And as LKCMedicine was created, Assoc Prof Rao found her calling to teach the next generation of doctors.

 

Teaching for a greater calling

It would be an understatement to say that Assoc Prof Rao enjoys teaching, as her passion for teaching is plain to see.

"More than just teaching, I find that I learn a lot about myself," said Assoc Prof Rao. "Interacting with the younger generation provides a fresh insight, provoking me to rethink many aspects."

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Teaching is second nature to Assoc Prof Rao as she inspires her students through her classes in pathology

Assoc Prof Rao was one of the first clinical tutors to join LKCMedicine after the School opened its doors in 2013, teaching what she knows best, pathology. Whenever she's in class, Assoc Prof Rao is always encouraging her students to be inquisitive and ask questions about concepts they are not clear.

But rather than giving them the answer, she motivates them to think critically for themselves. She said, "Getting the answer feels nice, but getting the answer yourself will make you feel better in the long run."

The pathology tutor is a firm believer that every question offers opportunities for new knowledge, and helps to consolidate everyone's learning. Being able to think critically and ask questions will stand students in good stead when they graduate and go on to become doctors, added Assoc Prof Rao.

Outside the classroom, Assoc Prof Rao also completed a stint as a house tutor for Lim Boon Keng House. Constantly there to support her students, Assoc Prof Rao enjoyed her time seeing another side them, often encouraging and guiding them through their uncertainties while studying at LKCMedicine.

Medicine is a long and intense course, and Assoc Prof Rao often advises her students to take a step back and breathe, especially when they start working in the hospital. Burnout, unfortunately, is a common issue among medical students.

"You need to take some time off to recharge yourself. It is important to make some time everyday to get some fresh air and physical activity. Set aside some time every week to do something you really enjoy," said Assoc Prof Rao.

Her love for teaching extends beyond the walls of LKCMedicine, as she teaches pathology to other postgraduate and undergraduate students, adapting her teaching to students' different needs. But, what she would like all her students to take away from her lessons is to enjoy learning.

"The students have to enjoy learning for a lifetime," said Assoc Prof Rao. "If you're going to be a doctor, you have to be willing to adapt and learn as medicine itself evolves."