Dr Maryanne Romero has always felt a natural affinity for the medical field.
The 32-year-old, a permanent resident in Singapore and currently in her first year of residency at the National University Hospital (NUH), chose to specialise in ophthalmology due to the chance to practice both surgery and medicine.
She says: “Sight is one of the most critical senses humans have, and after spending some time working in the eye department, I realised that one can truly maximise impact across many people by helping them improve their sight.”
Dr Romero chose to pursue her medical studies at Duke-NUS Medical School because of its “non-traditional means of learning in the form of TeamLEAD.” She had previously graduated with a Bachelor of Life Sciences with Honours from the National University of Singapore.
TeamLEAD (Learn, Engage, Apply and Develop) gives students the opportunity to learn through reading supplemental materials before attending class, and makes class sessions more impactful through practical problem-solving and small group discussions.
She also had a chance to meet some of the faculty prior to admission and found them all to be “very passionate” about the Duke-NUS teaching methodology.
Dr Romero appreciates how the school took an individual approach to each student, not just in terms of their academic work, but also in trying to help them identify their strengths and directing them towards potential specialities.
“They did so by organising many meetings or activities where we could have direct interaction with clinicians and faculty,” she adds.
Her time at Duke-NUS also equipped her with skills needed for the working world.
Dr Romero says: “The mandatory research year taught me some of the fundamentals of research, which has set a good foundation for me to pursue research projects now.”
Cultivating lifelong skills
The school’s strong emphasis on cultivating good practices and bedside manners has also served her in good stead, including when she took part in Project KAREN, an overseas community service project during her third year in medical school.
The project took her schoolmates and her to a rural village in Thailand, where they ran free clinics and dispensed basic medication.
She says: “Having spent one whole year doing our clinical rotations in the wards, I thought it was a good way of giving back to society using the skills we have picked up.”
“It also became a learning opportunity for me – the villagers taught us how to be resourceful and thankful with what little they had,” Dr Romero adds.
Even now, those skills come in handy when she has to attend to many patients in clinic daily.
As a junior resident, her day comprises either running clinics, going to the operating theatre, or performing procedures like lasers.
For Dr Romero, there are three main draws when it comes to ophthalmology.
The heavy emphasis on outpatient work means that she gets to meet many different patients every day, and at the same time, the multiple forms of technology used in ophthalmology also mean that she gets to be exposed to a variety of equipment for early diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions.
She is also fascinated by how “one of the smallest organs in the body is able to yield so many signs that can lead one to diagnose other health conditions.”
“It really is detective work at its finest,” she quips.
Knowing what's important
Dr Romero, who is married with a 16-month-old daughter, is grateful for the support of her husband as she juggles her work and training hours, while ensuring that they remain hands-on parents.
She says: “It was definitely tough initially when she was an infant, as we needed to divert a lot of hours to attending to her needs, but I think the hard work and persistence has paid off because she has grown to be a really easy-going baby.”
“I think there never is work-life balance. You always have to decide what your real priority in life is and then fine-tune your days accordingly,” she adds.
To that end, she advises all future Duke-NUS hopefuls to be absolutely sure in their conviction to become a physician, “because only passion can sustain you when the going gets tough.”
“It’s going to be a daily grind every single day for the rest of your career if you choose to be a doctor, but the rewards are second to none.