Recent graduates from NUS at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight

Many called the COVID-19 pandemic the defining health crisis of our time. Working tirelessly at the frontline, healthcare workers put up their best fight to protect everyone in Singapore. Four recent NUS graduates - Vincent Cai (Class of 2021), Joel Lim (Class of 2021), Sharlyn Ng (Class of 2021), and Wong Jun Ming (Class of 2020) - are undaunted about joining the healthcare sector during the pandemic. In fact, COVID-19 has only strengthened their resolve to join their seniors in safeguarding the well-being of our community.

Vincent Cai: COVID-19 contact tracing became a calling

Vincent Cai joined the Communicable Diseases Division at the Ministry of Health a month before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wuhan. A natural extension from his past experience with surveillance and reporting of droplet-borne diseases during his postgraduate studies at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Vincent soon found himself in multiple roles related to Singapore’s contact tracing efforts.

Performing a delicate balancing act, he completed his practicum in school while juggling the demands of contact tracing work at the peak of Singapore's COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. He received his degree of Masters in Public Health (MPH) from NUS on 26 June 2021.

Recounting the challenging period at the height of the global pandemic, Vincent confessed that the journey was a tough one. In the initial weeks, little was known about the new virus. The science behind COVID-19 was constantly evolving, and the challenges that came with each case were also different. In an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, Vincent had to handle each case with tremendous empathy, building a rapport with the contacts and their families while reassuring them of what to expect in the days ahead.

“Experiencing the rapid changes in the pandemic has made me realise the importance of being nimble and adaptable,” shared Vincent. “However, as a Public Health Officer, I see it both as a privilege and a duty to contribute to Singapore’s national effort of bringing COVID-19 under control.”

Vincent decided to enrol in the MPH programme after witnessing how the work of the School was translated into meaningful changes in healthcare delivery and initiatives, such as the War on Diabetes.

He credited his education for preparing him to handle the challenges of COVID-19. “My studies at NUS exposed me to a diverse range of public health topics, and gave me the opportunity to work with professionals from a wide range of backgrounds. This exposure has prepared me well for my current work, where a single issue, like a global pandemic, will have an impact on many sectors and facets of life,” he said.

Vincent’s current role within the Contact Tracing Task Group is to initiate the contact tracing process by verifying confirmatory laboratory results of patients that test positive for COVID-19. He remains continually inspired by what Singapore has achieved for public health, and is determined to contribute to its continual progress.

Joel Lim: A deep-seated love for humanity imbued in his DNA

Joel Lim Jia Yi comes from a family of doctors, and from young, he has been fascinated by the breadth of medicine, with its many specialties and subspecialties. As a teen, Joel would spend his school holidays shadowing his father, a family physician, in-clinic. He vividly remembers his father’s compassion and being a trusted, well-respected friend to those under his care.

Joel’s maternal grandfather, a paediatric surgeon, also influenced his decision to pursue medicine. He recalls his grandfather as being extremely kind and generous towards his patients who were unable to afford surgery.

Joel’s undergraduate experience in NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine continued to fuel his desire to pay it forward. He volunteered in various NUS Medicine student-led programmes in the community. These include health screening and education for migrant workers under the ‘Working Without Walls’ programme, developmental assessments for children as part of the ‘Neighbourhood Health Service Kids’ initiative, and educating the public on dementia and geriatric depression under ‘Project i-Remember’.

On 3 July 2021, Joel will be receiving his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery with Honours degree, and he currently serves as a freshly minted house officer at the National University Hospital.

Despite graduating amidst the turbulent COVID-19 pandemic, Joel feels privileged to be part of Singapore’s excellent healthcare system. He shared, "Although the pandemic has changed the frontiers of Medicine, the calling for doctors remains unchanged as we continue to put patients first... to cure sometimes, to relieve often, and to comfort always”.

Sharlyn Ng Jia Yi: Embracing a multi-disciplinary education

A deep passion for learning led Sharlyn Ng to be the first double major graduate from the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies at NUS. Come July, she will be graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with Honours (Distinction) with a second major in Economics. In addition to her academic achievements, Sharlyn is a cellist who was an active member of the NUS Symphonic Orchestra.

An academic interest in the field of medicine and biology led Sharlyn to explore Nursing as an undergraduate degree. While selecting her modules in her second year, Sharlyn was drawn to Economics as she appreciated how the subject linked mathematical concepts with real-world applications. She decided to pursue a second major in Economics.

“I plan to study Health Economics in future, since it applies to my career in the healthcare industry,” she shared.

During her hospital placements, Sharlyn experienced the fulfillment of nursing particularly when she saw patients discharged. Apart from performing duties like cleaning wounds and administering medication, she also honed her people skills through her interactions with patients and their families, visitors as well as fellow healthcare workers.

Amidst these hospital attachments, Sharlyn also performed with the NUS Symphony Orchestra. Since taking up the cello when she was 13, she has participated in numerous orchestral performances and competitions.

Sharlyn will be starting work as a nurse in the National University Hospital in August 2021. As the first in her family to enter the healthcare industry, she remains clear about her calling as a nurse, and is undaunted by the ongoing pandemic.

“With or without COVID-19, there are patients who need medical assistance. It is my duty as a nurse to care for them,” emphasised Sharlyn.

Wong Jun Ming: Solving ‘teething’ problems with technology

When Wong Jun Ming was in primary school, his desktop computer crashed. His uncle came to the rescue, and restored the system in a jiffy. Jun Ming was intrigued by how the seemingly complex components can be repaired so easily, and that ignited his deep interest in information technology (IT).

Given his keen interest in robotics and computing during his earlier school days, some of his friends were surprised that Jun Ming chose Dentistry when he enrolled in NUS. Jun Ming shared that his interest in Dentistry was sparked when he came to better understand the profession during his regular braces appointments.

“I was amazed at the range of technology that goes into designing and making dental prostheses – intraoral dental imaging, 3D x-rays, and even computer-aided design systems and manufacturing systems!” he recalled.

That made him realise that technology can be applied in other areas of the dental profession to make a positive impact on people’s lives. “I want to use modern technology to come up with solutions to bridge gaps in the dental profession, and advance the practice of dentistry,” he explained. This was one of the main reasons he chose to study Dentistry in NUS.

And he did exactly that during his four years of study at the NUS Faculty of Dentistry, where he developed several solutions that are being used by dental faculty members and students today.

One of them is a mobile app called ‘Cariogram’ which he developed in his second year. It is a resource that helps identify and stratify the risk of a patient developing dental caries, and understand the possible interactions between caries related factors. It was very well-received by the Faculty, and is now used by students as part of their complete examination of patients.

When he was in his final year, Jun Ming worked with his lecturer Dr Lim Li Zhen to design and develop an online resource called PanoAnatomy. The site enables dental students and junior clinicians to learn and practice recognising anatomical structures and landmarks on dental x-rays. It has been shared with 20 other dental schools around the world, and used by both NUS undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Jun Ming completed his Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree in 2020, and is currently working as a Dental Officer at the National Dental Centre Singapore. Graduating at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he shared that infection control and patient safety are top priorities for him.

“In dental school, we had to learn about infection control procedures, and had to pass practical and theory tests before we can treat patients. At work, I make sure that the necessary protection measures are in place. It is not just about my safety, but also that of my patients and my colleagues,” he emphasised.

COVID-19 and the road ahead

Despite their varied backgrounds, and the uncertainty the future holds, Vincent, Joel, Sharlyn and Jun Ming are committed to facing the challenges wrought by the global pandemic head-on.

Be it a provision of medical healthcare, contact tracing to curb the spread of transmissions, or even introducing new technologies to enhance the practice of dentistry – COVID-19 is an example of a modern-day problem that will require a synthesis of multi-faceted skills and abilities. It will take young people, such as these four recent NUS graduates, with a strong passion for healthcare, to enable Singapore to emerge stronger from this time of crisis.