Who could imagine killing is curing? The only way to cure a severe aneurysm located at a dangerous junction in the brain is to induce hypothermia which stops the heart. By medical definition, the person is clinically dead. However, this procedure also makes use of the important property of hypothermia to protect the brain, saving him. This is just one of the beauties of medicine, forever intriguing me to learn more about the fascinating ways medicine can transform lives.
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This year, I was fortunate to be able to follow Dr Miriam Kimpo in her paediatric oncology clinic at National University Hospital where I am introduced to Knudson’s two-hit hypothesis. It was used to explain a medical case where both mother and son were suffering from retinoblastoma. I also had the chance to observe how she advised the cancer outpatients on the various chemotherapy and radiation treatments and doing an echocardiogram to check for heart defects. Evidently, being a doctor is very intellectually rewarding as it requires critical thinking and decision-making. Dr Kimpo’s attentive listening to each patient and her patience when addressing the patients’ concerns of the potential side effects of treatment underscored the importance of soft skills and communicating complex medical terms in simple language for the patient to comprehend. The interpersonal skills that I learned from observations were applied when I led other students from a Biology Interest Group in planning a mealworm related masterclass for Primary 6 students as well as being the lecturer.
At the Children’s Emergency (CE), a boy who has O level exams the following week was diagnosed with Hidradenitis Suppurativa where the intense pain hindered his writing ability. His trust in the doctor’s expertise and his reliance on them to help him at critical moments such as taking his O level exams showed that being a doctor is a privilege and a dignified job. Nevertheless, the experience at CE also opened my eyes to the realities of life as a doctor. The doctor that I was job shadowing mistakenly diagnosed a child with bacterial pneumonia when it was viral pneumonia and gave her Levofloxacin before the release of blood test results. As such, he was reprimanded severely by a senior resident. Clearly, as mistakes could be fatal, the stress of maintaining a mistake-free record even with long working hours up to 36 hours was one of the difficulties as a doctor. Yet, it has been the sense of fulfilment from the job that kept them going.
As I set my sight on pursuing clinical research as well, I want to make sure that I am exposed to medical research and facilities beyond the school curriculum. As such, I have done 2 years of research at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School where I worked on RAC isoforms and ICMT which helped to apply for grants with a potential publication next year. I learned to critique and gain inspiration on experimental methods from research papers as well as use Huygens Professional for data analysis, keeping myself up-to-date on the latest research on RAC isoforms and recent imaging standards. Beyond broadening my knowledge scope, I was able to hone my lab skills as I performed lab techniques like western blot and cloning several times. Every week, I also met with professor Mei-Wang for a progress meeting where I realised the importance of communication in relaying my scientific findings.
Thanks to my loving parents and teachers who instilled in me a spirit of enquiry and self-sufficiency, I always relish probing further beyond the curriculum and often feel the need to understand the fundamental principle of various science concepts. For example NCBI is a great platform that provides me amazing research papers in my search for answers, of which I wish to know more about the signalling pathways of RAS isoforms. The research paper that enlightened me is also one of my favourites. It is a Nature literature review ‘Protein prenylation: unique fats make their mark on biology’. It focuses on CAAX protein prenylation by FTase and GCTase I, proteolysis of C-terminal tripeptide and methylation catalysed by RCE1 and ICMT which are the post-translational modifications that lead to cancer.
The ethos of medicine also intrigued me; I want an altruistic career and medicine is a service-oriented career. While volunteering at Ng Teng Fong Hospital for a year, I met a patient who was suffering from liver cirrhosis, where toxins in his brain resulted in a state of confusion. After violently kicking and flailing his arms to attack the nurses, he was placed on physical restraints to prevent further aggression. Momentarily, despite him being partially at fault for his plight, I also empathised with his psychological distress. When patients are sick and in pain, they would often present the worst sides of themselves. Unlike him who has a wife who would often visit him, another patient who suffers from Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis does not have visitors. He shared that his son blamed him for his wife’s death, hence refusing to visit him. To stop him from dwelling on past pains, we talked about food like the famous Indian Roti opposite Beauty World centre. As I see him take pleasure from recounting his fond memories, it made me realise the significance of emotional support for patients.
Besides academics, I appreciate art in the form of music. While preparing for the prestigious Singapore Youth Festival, all Chinese Orchestra members have to practise till 9 pm in school for months. Given our mere size of 25 members compared to other competitors with a size close to 100, it is difficult for us to achieve the same volume and quality of music. Nevertheless, our unwavering morale, teamwork, and resilience in each practise made it possible for us to achieve our best school record in past 5 years.
Being a doctor entails long and tiring hours, heavy responsibilities of delivering the right medical treatment as well as ethical dilemmas between patient’s autonomy and a doctor’s duty. Yet, I believe that this altruistic career will spur me to continuously improve myself given the ever-changing medical field, providing me with the privilege to offer my medical expertise to help patients in close proximity and a sense of gratification when they regain their health. From my job shadowing experiences, being a doctor is an intellectually stimulating career that allows an extrovert me to interact with patients from different walks of life and form new bonds. Most importantly, I believe I have the drive, emotional maturity and the academic potential to excel in this life-long career.
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