Medical school places to rise to 500 next year

Ms Wang Kaiying and Mr Kevin Jerrold Chan, both 19, will start their medical studies at NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine next month.
Ms Wang Kaiying and Mr Kevin Jerrold Chan, both 19, will start their medical studies at NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine next month. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Getting into medical school here remains fiercely competitive, even though the number of available spaces is set to rise to a bumper 500 by next year, a target date revealed for the first time, to meet Singapore's growing healthcare needs.

At the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), a record 1,022 applicants vied for 120 spaces in the coming year that starts next month.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has had more than 2,000 top students fight for the 300 spaces in its Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine each year in the past five years.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has been working with the Education Ministry to train more medical students, to meet the growing healthcare needs of an ageing population and more people living with chronic illnesses.

An MOH spokesman told The Straits Times the aim is to have an annual intake of 500 students by next year.

Last year, the combined intake of the three medical schools in Singapore was 471, a 40 per cent jump from 336 in 2011.

The number of doctors here grew from 11,733 in 2014 to 12,967 last year, according to data on the MOH website.

Besides NUS and NTU, which admitted its first batch of medical students in 2013, the Duke-NUS Medical School also turns out doctors.

Set up in 2005, it accepts more than 60 students a year to its Doctor of Medicine programme. Students enter with at least an undergraduate degree in any field except medicine, and it is Singapore's first US-style graduate medical school.

But while there are more places for medical school, getting in is far from easy.

NTU said its medical students are mostly "straight A students".

Its dean, Professor James Best, attributed the school's growing number of applicants to factors such as the rise of NTU in global rankings and greater awareness and profile of the school among medical professionals and students.

Besides looking at their grades, medical schools put their applicants through interviews and other tests in their selection process. Schools said they look for students who can think critically, show empathy for patients and display integrity, among other qualities.

Among those accepted by NUS is a "small number of outstanding" polytechnic students.

One, Ms Tricia Chua, 21, topped her cohort in veterinary bioscience at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Ms Chua, whose father is a driving instructor and her mother a clerk, said: "I cried when I heard I got in."

For Mr Kevin Jerrold Chan, 19, who will go to NTU, various encounters with doctors sparked his interest in medicine.

At the age of three, he was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood disease characterised by the inflammation of blood vessels and which could lead to heart disease or sudden death.

A national fencer and the only child of a dentist and a housewife, the Hwa Chong Institution student said: "My parents always told me that doctors saved my life. They diagnosed the Kawasaki disease, treated it and thankfully, I recovered.

"So, I like the idea of making a difference to patients and their families."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2017, with the headline Medical school places to rise to 500 next year. Subscribe