TWO former madrasah students have become the first to be offered places in a medical school here.
Ms Amalina Ridzuan and Mr Ahmad Abdurrahman, who each spent the full 10 years in Islamic religious schools, have made the cut to enter the National University of Singapore's (NUS) highly competitive Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
There are six full-time madrasahs here. In recent years, they have placed more emphasis on raising academic standards by helping students balance the demands of the religious and secular curricula.
The duo also join the ranks of a select number of students who took the polytechnic route to be accepted into medicine. Last year, for instance, only 10 or so polytechnic graduates were offered places at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.
Ms Amalina, 22, who has four siblings aged 12 to 20, grew up playing doctor with them.
While in secondary school, a newspaper article about a cancer patient struck her. "I really didn't want to see (others) having to go through the same pain. That's why I felt compelled to do something... to do my part to alleviate their pain," she said.
But the former student of Madrasah Al-Ma'arif Al-Islamiah in Geylang took longer than expected to make it to medical school.
After graduating from the madrasah, she entered Serangoon Junior College but did not do well.
"I considered doing a private degree, but I was very interested in medicine and didn't want to spend the rest of my life doing something I didn't like, or any other degree," said Ms Amalina, whose 45-year-old father is a material handler and 44-year-old mother, a management support officer.
So she enrolled in a biomedical science course at Temasek Polytechnic and worked hard. She will graduate on Wednesday with a grade point average of 3.98 out of 4.
NUS does not comment on individuals accepted into its medical school, but has said it looks for attributes such as compassion, empathy and the ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
Mr Ahmad will be graduating from Singapore Polytechnic on Thursday. The 19-year-old, formerly from Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah, also studied biomedical science in polytechnic.
His 46-year-old mother, an allied educator in a primary school, and 54-year-old father, who is self-employed in the vehicle business, enrolled all four of their children in madrasahs so that they would have a solid foundation in religious knowledge.
Mr Ahmad said: "Being in a madrasah taught me time management and how to study smart, because we had so many subjects."
At one point, he was taking 14 subjects, including mathematics, history and others on Islamic law and etiquette.
His polytechnic course and internships have given him a glimpse of his career ahead.
One incident that struck him during a stint at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital was when a doctor asked him to comfort a patient during a painful procedure. "I wasn't sure what to do, so I just held her hand and looked into her eyes. Somehow, that small gesture helped."