Better selection process for medical students

Medicine is about helping people of all ages and across all backgrounds.

I agree with National University of Singapore's medical dean Yeoh Khay Guan that doctors should have integrity, be able to communicate and connect with people, and work in teams with other healthcare professionals ("NUS medical school sees more diverse student mix"; last Wednesday).

The NUS medical faculty's new admission system, in which applicants undergo a series of interviews to evaluate their thinking and skills, is a good way to get the most suitable students.

However, there is no perfect system. There are parents who try hard to get their children to have attachments with various specialists and famous doctors.

I have taken pre-medical students on mission trips. After getting into medical schools here, some stopped going on such trips and stopped all voluntary work.

To be fair, I have also encountered many good medical students.

Here are a few suggestions to improve the selection system for medical students.

First, we should have a more diverse set of criteria and tests which can better reveal the candidates' values - so that a humble but not so vocal candidate will not get rejected, and an articulate candidate with dubious values will not get accepted.

Second, the tests and criteria should not be made public, so as to prevent candidates from gaming the system.

Third, include those candidates who have experienced more of life. For example, students who are cancer survivors, those who have suffered loss in the family, those who have to support their families and those who have come through unconventional channels.

Fourth, students who have work experience, completed national service or attained excellence in sports or the arts should be given priority.

Fifth, priority should also be given to those who want to be general practitioners. About half of every cohort will end up in primary care, and primary care is the solution to containing escalating health costs.

For a healthcare system to be efficient, everyone in the system must work together. It starts with selecting the right candidate.

Leong Choon Kit (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2015, with the headline 'Better selection process for medical students'. Print Edition | Subscribe