Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore Groundbreaking Dinner

Tuesday, September 5, 2006
1 Sep 2006

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan gave a speech at a dinner at the College of Medicine Building to mark the groundbreaking for the new Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.

Below are excerpts of his speech "A Worthy Piece To Our Healthcare Jigsaw".

A few hours ago, we witnessed the groundbreaking of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore, or "GMS". This is historic as it is not often that new Medical Schools are set up. For Singapore, GMS will only be our second medical school.

A New Medical School

How did this project come about?

The Medical Faculty at the Kent Ridge campus has just increased its intake from 230 to 250. This is in response to rising demand. Our population will continue to grow and age. We are confident of attracting many more foreign patients. If the number of doctors and specialists do not go up in tandem with rising demand, patient care will suffer, not to mention rising healthcare cost.

A medical specialist takes years to train. The increased intake in the NUS Medical Faculty this year will only benefit the patients in 2015 or beyond. We cannot wait. So we must top up with foreign recruitment. Every year, we recruit about 130 doctors who graduated overseas. Singaporeans have benefited from these foreign doctors.

But at the same time, we should also expand local training of doctors. We are proud of our standard of medical education and training. We can do more. NUS has set an immediate target to increase the intake by 50 per year, but we know that a larger expansion will be needed in due course.

There are two options. Expand the Medical Faculty at the Kent Ridge campus, or start a second Medical School. At 250 student intake per year, the Kent Ridge campus is already among the largest medical schools in the world. In comparison, Duke University takes in only 100; Johns-Hopkins, 120 and Harvard Medical School, 165 per year.

We decided that a second Medical School will serve our long term interest better.

First, it allows for further expansion. At 300 student intake per year, the Kent Ridge campus may be able to cope. But beyond 300, we are really pushing the limits and it will not do justice to the faculty and the students.

Second, it gives us an opportunity to experience a different model of medical education. The Kent Ridge campus originated from the British model of medical education. Over the years, we have evolved and tried to adapt the best practices from around the world. We are proud of it and its graduates.

We know that the US medical education is quite different from the UK model. Let me just highlight two major differences.

First, it is a graduate programme, unlike an undergraduate programme like ours. It takes in graduates who have already completed a basic university degree in say science, or engineering. The students are mature and for them to decide to invest in a medical education, their motivation is clearly strong.

Second, in many American medical schools, clinical research has a significant emphasis. For example, in Duke University, its medical programme is for 4 years, but one of the 4 years is fully devoted to clinical research. The graduates of such a model of medical education are more likely to devote their career to be clinician-scientists, combining medical practices and clinical research.

Joint Responsibilities

Given the diverse interests in the success of the GMS, it is not the sole responsibility of one Ministry. Three Ministries have strong but separate interests in the GMS: MOE, MOH and MTI. MOE is a natural stakeholder and the key driver, but MOH and MTI too are keen that the graduates of the GMS add suitable value to our hospitals, the research laboratories and the industry.

Dr Tony Tan, then DPM in charge of life sciences promotion and the universities, persuaded the 3 Ministries to jointly fund the GMS so as to register their stakes in this venture. If and when GMS becomes a resounding success in the future, Singaporeans will look back on Dr Tony Tan's contribution in championing the cause of the GMS and his larger vision that through GMS, we help raise Singapore's standards of medical education, clinical services and clinical research to new heights.

Our Aspirations

But what will constitute a resounding success? Different stakeholders will define success differently.

Let me share with you MOH's aspirations for the GMS. I will highlight three criteria.

First, that GMS will become a top medical school in the world, sought after by top students from around the world. To measure this success, international rankings of medical schools is one, but this will take time to be achieved. For the short term, one proxy indicator of success is when the Duke University agrees to grant degrees to the GMS graduates in its name jointly with NUS. This is in fact a declared aim of the joint venture and we look forward to its early realisation.

Second, that GMS will help transform the Outram campus into a major centre for academic medicine in the region, attracting doctors, nurses, students, trainees and patients from afar to participate in medical education, research, and service delivery. In particular, the GMS will help boost the culture and results of clinical research, creating new knowledge and technologies, leading to new treatments and diagnostic tools. The ultimate aim is to enhance Singapore's reputation as a biomedical research hub.

Third, that GMS will help Singaporeans live a long and healthy life. This is the mission of the MOH but we need all our healthcare partners to jointly realise this mission. For GMS, this means working closely with all the healthcare partners in Singapore to translate the benefits of medical education and clinical research into better care for our patients. This in turn will boost Singapore's reputation as a regional medical hub, serving patients from near and afar.