Life as a 5th Year NUS Medical Student (during COVID-19)

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Wow. I can’t believe I’ve finally come to the end of my 5th year of medical school; first things first, a huge thank you to all of you who’ve been faithfully following my journey through life and med school since 2016. (don’t worry, I’ll still be actively blogging about my life as a doctor!)

We started our final year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that our academic year (early June 2021 – March 2021) was nothing-but-conventional. Everything had to be rescheduled, reorganised and rearranged – you can read about how COVID-19 affected medical school training here – but it still turned out really well!

Our final/5th year is divided into four 8-week blocks, and these were the hospitals I was posted to for as part of the Student Internship Programme (SIP) in chronological order:

  • General Surgery (8 weeks)
    • 4 weeks GS SIP (TTSH)
    • 4 weeks of Home-Based Learning
  • Ortho/Derm/ID block (4/2/2 weeks)
    • Orthopaedics
      • 2 weeks Ortho SIP (CGH)
      • 2 weeks of Home-Based Learning
    • Dermatology (home-based, but normally you’d be posted to the National Skin Centre)
    • Infectious Diseases (home-based, but normally this posting is done at the National Centre of Infectious Diseases)
  • Internal Medicine (8 weeks)
    • 4 weeks IM SIP (TTSH)
    • 4 weeks of Home-Based Learning
  • Paediatrics /ACLS/Geri (3/2/3 weeks)
    • Paeds
      • 1.5 weeks Paeds SIP (KKH)
      • 1.5 weeks of Home-Based Learning
    • Advanced Clinical Skills and Life Support (largely campus-based)
    • Geriatrics
      • 1 week of Home-Based Learning
      • 2 weeks of Geri SIP (NTFGH)

During each SIP posting, we would be assigned a supervisor and evaluated on our performance as a ward intern, and were expected to function at the level of a House Officer. Your experience will greatly differ based on which hospital you’re doing each posting at, but overall I was blessed with pretty nice consultants/supervisors and a manageable workload.

At the end of each of the 8 postings, we had an End Of Posting Test, which meant we were low-key in exam mode and preparing for tests all year round…it was overall a more intense year than M3/M4, but still manageable especially since we had many weeks of chilling at home doing e-learning.

TTSH General Surgery SIP (4 weeks)

My CG (clinical group) was lucky enough to be posted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which is known for its nice surgical culture. We were each rotated through 2 randomly assigned GS subspecialty teams – I had the chance to be an intern for Urology and Colorectal subspecialties for 2 weeks each. Other subspecialties that my friends got to rotate through were: UGIT, HPB, Trauma, Endocrine & Vascular.

Overall, despite having to start work at 6.30am on most days, I had an extremely enjoyable experience shadowing & assisting my teams’ House Officers (HO) in their daily work. They taught me how to function as a junior doctor in GS – spoiler alert – it’s menial (but quite fun) work with an endless list of patients and tasks. On top of scribing what the senior doctors say during the lightning-speed rounds, the HOs and I spent the rest of our day running from ward to ward to complete many procedures like catheterisation, removing drains & tubes, or bloodtaking. On the administrative side of things, us interns learnt how to write referral letters, discharge summaries, update patients’ families and order various scans & medications.

The teaching curriculum at TTSH was also very comprehensive, with near-daily bedside or didactic tutorials that covered most of the core topics we’re required to know. The surgeons at TTSH are the absolute friendliest and most benign surgeons I’ve ever met, which made for a really good and fun learning environment. Our days mercifully ended around 4-5pm on average, since we usually had didactic tutorials and didn’t attend exits (depending on the team, some exit after the sun has gone down!!).

CGH Ortho SIP (2 weeks)

If your experience in Orthopedics isn’t an #ortholiday, you’re doing it wrong. The only time I touched my stethoscope during this posting was to listen to an orthopedic patient’s murmur. Jokes aside, my experience at CGH Ortho was fun and relatively chill compared to GS (which we all know is the most intense posting of the year), so it was a welcome respite.

Half my CG was assigned to the same team due to COVID restrictions, and there wasn’t much intern work for us to do since there weren’t many patients. We mainly followed our team during ward rounds, sat in for some clinics, and attended tutorials. The highlight of this posting was our last day, where we celebrated at Shake Shack (oops).

Derm & ID E-learning (4 weeks)

We had 2 weeks of e-learning each for our Dermatology & Infectious Diseases postings, which meant that we had to cram a significant amount of content in less than 2 weeks for each End Of Posting Test. Unfortunately, because of COVID, the clinical components were converted into 4 weeks of e-learning for my group (some other groups were allowed to attend Derm clinics in the later half of 2020).

Since both are extremely niche subspecialties under Internal Medicine, we were taught a wide breadth of topics rather than going particularly in-depth. It was a useful overview of common conditions and how to treat them, and we also had lessons on ethics as a part of Infectious Diseases (ethical issues in HIV disclosure, etc.).

SGH Internal Medicine SIP (4 weeks)

Half of my CG was posted to SGH IM – we spent 1 week in SGH’s main block, where our team’s patients had more serious conditions, and the subsequent 3 weeks with a different team in an overflow ward in the Outram Community Hospital, which had far more stable patients.

We only had biweekly bedside tutorials, which felt a little skimpy compared to other hospitals which had daily bedside or didactic tutorials…but on the bright side, we had time to just hang out and go home early!

We did a bit of SIP work and enjoyed a relatively chill schedule; we showed up at 7.30am, rounded from 8.30-10.30am (I love Singhealth’s efficient rounds), did paperwork in between, and finished before 4/5pm on most days. It was a really great learning experience, getting to revise all our approaches to various presenting complaints (which came in handy during our MBBS) and being endlessly pimped* during rounds (also good in preparing you for when your MBBS examiner asks you a ridiculous question and you feel like shitting your pants).

*pimping, as defined here: a process through which the most senior medical person asks the team questions about relevant medical information, typically during morning rounds.

KKH Paeds SIP (1.5 weeks)

Our KKH posting was divided into 3 days of clinics and 4 days of ward postings. The full-day specialty clinics were randomly assigned to us, so everyone sat in on different clinics. I got to attend endocrine, cardiology, general paeds and neonatology clinics, etc. I found them decently interesting (content-wise) and pretty fun, as I got to entertain and play with the kids during their consult. But the number of patients defaulting for each clinic was fairly high as it was during the December school holidays, so some clinics ended super early (yay for early days LOL).

Our ward posting was pleasant as well, but the rounds were ~3h long on average because pediatricians are very detail-oriented, which is completely reasonable cos children really do need especially careful and thorough care.

ACLS (2 weeks)

You know the man, the myth, the legend – ACLS is Prof Suresh’s posting, and you’re in for some seriously long hours. We started off with a full-day lecture on the Saturday before the posting started, then had 3 pleasant half-days dedicated to BCLS & ACLS certification.

New Year’s Eve of 2020 was spent attending a 10 hour Zoom lecture by Prof Suresh that ended in the evening, mercifully before 2021 rolled around. Our 2nd week was spent on basic and advanced procedural skills, teamwork & professionalism lectures, as well as crisis simulation sessions (with the longest day in school lasting from 8am-11pm). Overall, it was an interesting and very fun interactive posting, since I’m a huge fan of Emergency Medicine, but it was undoubtedly tiring. GLHF!

NTF Geri SIP (3 weeks)

We spent 2 weeks interning at NTF Geri, and the 3rd week at the adjacent Jurong Community Hospital. The doctors in the department were really friendly, and some of the patients were quite fun to interact with (although a vast majority were unfortunately unable to communicate meaningfully or even sit out of bed).

This was my last clinical posting before the MBBS, so my friends and I took the chance to see more medical short cases (the first time I put in so much effort in my 3 years of clinical postings LOL). We followed a very pro-teaching geriatrician to examine various patients with good clinical findings, and he conducted short bedside tutorials as well. It was a good practice session and helped me figure out where my gaps in knowledge were.

I enjoyed this posting, as the content and SIP workload were both fairly chill, and afforded me sufficient time to begin revising for the MBBS.

I’ll probably write a post about how to prepare for the MBBS + my experience, so stay tuned for that! Right now I’m just enjoying my break before workplace orientation starts in a month’s time…

I can’t wait to start writing about my life as a House Officer (junior doctor) in my upcoming year-long series, The House Elf/Officer Chronicles, so be sure to follow my Insta or Facebook page to stay up to date with my latest posts and life updates!


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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, doctoring, psychology, random musings), or check out my most read series below:

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