Duke-NUS Medical School

Avid climber views next peak in her life

Clinical pharmacist finally decided she wanted to study medicine after making it to the top of a mountain

Clinical pharmacist Natalia Sutiman faces the next step in her life - she joined Duke-NUS Medical School with the hopes of becoming a clinical researcher.
Clinical pharmacist Natalia Sutiman faces the next step in her life - she joined Duke-NUS Medical School with the hopes of becoming a clinical researcher.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

When Ms Natalia Sutiman made it to the peak of the Cuillin, one of the most challenging mountains in Britain, worry was the last thing on her mind.

The 27-year-old felt a sense of clarity that came with a spectacular afternoon view of the north- west of Scotland.

It was also on that rugged terrain last year that the clinical pharmacist, who had been working since 2012, decided that she wanted to be a student again - and the field was medicine.

"I always had medical school at the back of my mind," she said.

The decision to move from working from "lab benches to hospital bedsides" was not an easy one for the National University of Singapore (NUS) graduate.

For her, the defining moment on Cuillin had been a long time in the making.

To prepare physically for the climb, she spent months training at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie Reservoir.

Another issue was deciding how she could continue to contribute to the healthcare profession.

While she enjoyed her job as a clinical pharmacist with SingHealth and found it meaningful, she said pharmacists play a more supportive role.

She preferred interacting with patients directly.

"Pharmacy was more focused. We were supposed to be drug experts," she said.

"Medicine is a lot broader because you have to think about the social aspects of a patient's care."

Ms Sutiman had felt drawn to study medicine since her undergraduate days.

However, she said: "I just didn't have the strength of conviction to do medicine as an undergraduate.

"It requires dedication."

After Ms Sutiman started work, her motivations in the field of healthcare moved whatever mountains of doubt she might have had previously.

She sought the advice of her mentor - Professor Balram Chowbay, director of clinical pharmacology at SingHealth - on how she should pursue her post-graduate education.

Their lengthy discussions culminated in her resolution at the top of the Scottish mountain.

"At the summit, I felt a deep sense of gratitude that life has blessed me with the experiences I've had," she said.

This year, she managed to conquer another peak in her life.

The avid climber joined Duke-NUS Medical School with the hopes of being a clinical researcher.

Ms Sutiman sees her background as a pharmacist as a plus in medical school.

"My knowledge of drugs will come in handy," she said. "Even though my journey hasn't been straight, I am satisfied."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Avid climber views next peak in her life'. Subscribe