In 2012, a 16 year-old Foo Yu Wah scored a very respectable 6 points for his L1B4, and 8 points for his L1R5 -- a score that he felt was “better than expected”.
With his good grades, he decided to enrol in Singapore Poly’s (SP) Biomedical Science course.
And fast forward seven years later. Foo, now 23, is a third year student at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
While most of his peers in medical school graduated from JC, his professors do not think there were discernible differences whether their students were from JC or poly.
In fact, Foo felt many aspects of medical school familiar, due to the solid foundation he received while studying in SP.
Enrolling in SP’s Biomedical Science course would eventually provide him the qualities and skills to become one of 11 polytechnic graduates to score a place in local medicine course in 2017.
Oh, and six of these polytechnic graduates came from SP -- the highest number from a single polytechnic to be accepted for local medical schools.
An overseas internship sparked his interest in becoming a doctor
In considering SP’s Biomedical Science course, Foo candidly shared that he had to weigh the pros and cons, as well as risks of going to both JC and polytechnic.
So why did he eventually settle on Biomedical Science in SP? Basically, it was Foo’s deep fascination for biology and his desire to deepen his understanding through a science-specific course.
“I was looking through all the courses in the catalogue, and biomedical science was the best science course that any polytechnic can offer, and at the time (2012), the best biomedical science was offered by SP, so that’s why I chose SP,” said Foo.
Foo confessed that he was not considering pursuing a degree in medicine when he first applied to SP.
However, three-month internship stint in the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, where he was a research assistant, changed his thinking.
Foo did research in the immunology department, and the opportunity to work in a hospital setting spurred him to believe that this was something that he could do in the future.
There, he also met a fellow colleague, who was a doctor studying for his PhD. This particular colleague was facing some family difficulties at that time, yet he continued to juggle his tiring duties as both a researcher and a doctor.
Drawn by how driven and passionate he was about medicine, Foo was inspired to pursue medicine himself.
Drawing strength from other seniors
Foo shared that he initially lacked the confidence to pursue medicine, given that it was a highly competitive course in Singapore.
“In year two, I didn’t really give medicine a thought. I was really deterred by it, mainly because medicine is such a prestigious course. The notion was that only the smart students can get in. I was really scared, and not very confident in myself.”
However, Foo realised that an increasing number of seniors from SP, who were also studying Biomedical Science, were being accepted into local medicine courses.
Foo also had a lecturer in SP who guided him greatly when he was co-heading the student council.
The lecturer, who taught Foo analytical and physical chemistry, as well as organic and inorganic chemistry, wrote Foo a recommendation letter when he applied for medical school.
“She was really kind and helpful, and always had the students’ welfare in mind,” Foo said.
This gave Foo the motivation and the confidence he needed to strive towards his newfound goal.
Foo did not make it into medical school on his first try
The road to medical school, however, was not an easy one.
He first applied to NUS medicine in 2015, and discovered that the application process is particularly grueling compared to other university courses.
There are two rounds of selection. The first round is based on the applicant’s academic results and portfolio, which involves of CCA, CIP and job shadowing experience.
This will narrow down the group of applicants to approximately 800-1000 people.
The next round involves an interview with two components: a situational judgement test, which was a written test, and a focused skills assessment, where candidates have to complete various stations together in small groups.
However, despite having a 3.92 GPA, being a member of SP’s Canoeing Club, the Vice-President for Student Council for his course, and an avid community volunteer, Foo’s best efforts were thwarted when his application to the NUS medical school was rejected.
Considered Pharmacy and TCM instead
Foo was, in his own words, “devastated” after he was rejected from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in 2015.
“The people around me keep bringing me up [sic], saying that I ‘confirm’ get in. I had the expectation that I will get in for sure. I thought that I had a good portfolio, my results were pretty good. I thought I did quite well in the interview as well, so I thought I was probably going to get in. So when they sent me the rejection letter, it was really like, ‘wah’. It hit me quite hard,” he said.
Foo did not apply for NUS medicine again in 2016, because he needed time to regather his confidence.
Instead, he applied to NUS pharmacy instead (he got in, by the way), as he thought that medicine and pharmacy was “quite closely related.”
However, upon more thought, he realised that Pharmacy was not what he really wanted to do, and he kept himself open to other choices.
In 2017, during a trip to Taiwan, a certain talkative tour guide piqued Foo’s interest in applying for a similar course: A double degree in Biomedical Sciences and Chinese Medicine, at NTU.
The part-time tour guide was actually a TCM practitioner, and several days of talking about the subject was enough to convince Foo to give it a shot.
He applied to NTU TCM (he also got in, by the way), but became apprehensive as he would be required to study overseas in Beijing for the last two years of the course.
At the same time, he applied again to NUS medicine, and was accepted this time round.
His family finances were not strong, and he had already been away from his family for two years due to his NS obligations.
With this in mind, Foo’s choice was clear: he accepted the offer from NUS’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, two years after he was initially rejected.
Foo’s first response after getting accepted was to call his mother
Foo could remember the exact place and time he finally received his acceptance email from NUS, given the long road he took to get there.
He was an artillery officer who was about to conduct an outfield exercise for his men at Khatib Camp, when he received a familiar-looking email from NUS.
He recalled the fear he felt from seeing the email; after all, he has been rejected once before.
Foo went to a stairwell in the corner, and finally mustered up the courage to open the email.
"Congratulations! The National University of Singapore is pleased to offer you admission to the following undergraduate course(s) in Academic Year 2017: Medicine."
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. I think I was actually trembling with happiness. I was really excited. I called my mum,” Foo recounted.
Rather than being utterly ecstatic about the news, Foo’s mum gave a more stoic response, saying “that’s good, that’s good.”
Foo assured me that she did feel happy for him, although he acknowledged that she was a “typical Asian Mum.”
Need to draw blood? No problem.
Upon entering medical school, Foo recalled that the learning curve was “manageable”, something which he credited to the solid foundation he received while studying Biomedical Science in SP.
Foo found many of the subjects in medical school, such as anatomy, physiology and biochemistry highly familiar, although he admitted that while he only managed to scratch the surface of these subjects in polytechnic, he had to “dive deep into it” during medical school.
In fact, the practical experience that he picked up during his poly days came in handy, when the medical students had to learn how to draw blood from patients.
Foo said that he was quite confident of doing it, having done it numerous times back in his poly days.
“We learned how to take blood in Poly. We used to draw each other’s blood, and analyse it every week. So when we actually had to take blood in medical school, I wasn’t really afraid. I could just do it,” said Foo.
He was also more familiar with the laboratory work that was necessary in certain modules, given his extensive experience both during polytechnic and his internship.
A day in the life of a medical student
While Foo spent his first two years in medical school mainly hitting the books, Foo is now embarking on the next step of medical school: the clinical phase.
This involved following doctors on their rounds around the medical wards, who start as early as 7am.
Medical students would also shadow doctors during clinical sessions, where they will observe how doctors interact with and diagnose patients.
Foo also said that during his rotation in General Surgery, he was given the opportunity to scrub in, and observe the surgeons in the operating theatre.
If he was lucky, he would even get the chance to assist the surgeon during the surgery.
Foo described his first scrubbing in experience as “very scary”, because he knew he could not afford to make any mistakes.
“It was a five-minute process, where you have to complete a lot of different steps of washing. We call it the Aseptic Surgical Hand Hygiene technique. There were really a lot of steps to remember, and you don’t want to miss out on any steps, because you would compromise on your hygiene. You could also compromise on the patient’s health, and even his or her survival, if you made any mistakes,” explained Foo.
Foo also said that observing a real surgery was very interesting, since he only had contact with cadavers thus far.
He said that even though he was not the one making incisions himself, merely looking at it being performed was an “adrenaline rush.”
SP imparted the skills for Foo’s peers to head down various academic paths
Many of Foo’s peers in SP Biomedical Science are also currently pursuing a wide range of different academic routes.
“Honestly, Poly prepares you quite well for university. All my poly friends have been able to enter university,” he said.
A few of them are currently studying Biological Sciences at NTU, while two of his friends are pursuing courses related to radiology.
One friend also received a scholarship from King’s College in London to study dietetics.
Others even branched out to study other disciplines, like law, business and accountancy.
“Polytechnic education is honestly pretty good. We can go almost anywhere,” Foo said.
This sponsored article by Singapore Polytechnic made the writer wish he went to poly instead.
Top image from Foo Yu Wah.