​Speech by NTU President Professor Subra Suresh at the White Coat Ceremony 2018

Published on: 15-Aug-2018

Keynote Address by

Professor Subra Suresh
President & Distinguished University Professor
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Nanyang Auditorium
15 August 2018, 10.30am

Mr Lim Chuan Poh,
Dean James Best,
Dr Desmond Johnston,
Dr Lee Suan Yew,
LKCMedicine and NTU Class of 2023,
Parents and family members,
Distinguished guests,

A very good morning to you all. Nothing is more exciting for people working in the university than to see bright young minds full of optimism, full of hope and equally full of idealism, taking on a very, very noble profession that benefits fellow human beings.

Dean James Best just said that he started this journey more than 50 years ago and he also pointed out that Dr Lee Suan Yew started his even earlier. I’m not that far behind. I haven’t quite hit 50 years yet since college. I was young once. When I was young, I could remember everything, whether it happened or not – that was a line from Mark Twain. But one of the unique things about the journey that you are about to take, is that the passion with which you approached this journey will have such a profound impact not just on one or two individuals that you encounter, not just on Singapore, but equally on the world. 

Let me first remind you how lucky you are to be here and how lucky we are to have you here for the next five years. NTU and the Imperial College in London are two top universities in the world, in fact this year by at least one metric - they were both ranked in the Top 12. And these two universities together bring their strengths to give you five years to give you training, opportunities for learning, and education that will have a lifelong impact.

The way the LKCMedicine was created also symbolises something unique about human nature — an act of philanthropy by the Lee Foundation and its impact on establishing a tone for philanthropy that will impact generations to come. Gwyneth June Goodfield, British historian and American academic, once said doctors treat diseases but they also treat people. And this precondition of their professional existence sometimes pulls them in two directions at once. 

If you look at the mission of the LKCMedicine, it says ‘Equipping doctors who advance the science and practice of medicine for the good of humanity. The doctors you and I would like to have caring for us’. So the education that you’re about to receive is not just learning a profession, not just learning the latest tools that will treat a disease, but equally, all the necessary human interactions  that you will need every day as you encounter patients, fellow human beings. As Dean Best just said, every day is going to be different from the previous one. 

We just graduated 52 outstanding young doctors who have started their postgraduate work in seven hospitals in Singapore. We are delighted to welcome the largest cohort for LKCMedicine yet – 138 of you – to join us here.

We are here to participate in the White Coat ceremony. The white coat is often referred to as the cloak of compassion. Medicine and healthcare are unique professions. Someone once said that good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment. Many professions are forgiving of bad judgment, but medicine is not one of them. One cannot afford too many bad judgments, and one bad judgment can be one too many.

So this is another reason our colleagues in LKCMedicine have put in an enormous amount of effort and thought into the way we train students using the latest pedagogical tools, the latest tools in technology, and completely different ways of learning and interacting with one another during the course of five years. And this is very significant to keep in mind. 

To the parents who are in the audience, I want to congratulate you for the journey you are about to take with your children – they are not children anymore – who are here for entrusting them with us for the next five years. I stand here not just the President of NTU and an admirer of LKCMedicine, but also as a parent who participated in a White Coat ceremony with my daughter Nina just a few years ago. [shows photo] And this is the White Coat ceremony that I was at a few years ago. Nina finished her residency. Now she is the chief of residency in Paediatrics at the Weill Cornell Medical School. As a parent, I had the opportunity to vicariously experience the trials and tribulations of a medical student, a young doctor, a resident who put in, sometimes, very close to more than 36 hours at a stretch without sleep. But this was excellent I think. I also saw the joy in her. I’m sure you’ll see the same thing. 

William Shakespeare, in Hamlet, said, and I quote, “Diseases desperate grown, by desperate appliance are relieved, or not at all.” Many centuries ago, when Shakespeare talked about desperate appliances, he was talking about primitive tools. Today, desperate appliances benefit from the unique and unprecedented convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds. Digital technologies, virtual reality, personalised and precision medicine, gene editing, immunotherapy, artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning, virtual surgery, augmented reality etc etc… These have an enormous role to play. 

And you are entering the medical profession at a point in human history where you are able to at least minimise pain or eliminate it to a degree that has previously not been possible. And you couldn’t have chosen a better place to do this in all these areas that I’ve mentioned. In many of these areas, NTU has been ranked among the top in the world. Just this year alone, in the area of AI, we attracted some of the world’s largest companies to come to our campus for the first time outside of their own country to establish a major presence on our campus. 
So I very much hope that in this dual campus setting, as you get your education in LKCMedicine, you would also have an opportunity to tap into the rich portfolio of intellectual domains that NTU offers you and benefit from those offerings so that your education is much richer than what is just possible in any one medical school. That combined with the strong collaboration with Imperial College in London gives you a tremendous opportunity to go even further. So I would like to take this opportunity again to thank you all for choosing us and to wish you a good journey. 

Let me also thank Dr Lee Suan Yew, an eminent physician, the youngest brother of the late founding Prime Minister of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who’s educated in Cambridge, trained in Singapore General Hospital, who’s played a key role in the development of medicine in Singapore in many capacities, and equally I want to thank him for all the input and advice he’s given to NTU as we established our medical school, the LKCMedicine school here, and the many contributions he continues to make to NTU and to Singapore and for joining us today in this White Coat ceremony.

So let me wish you all a wonderful journey over the next five years. I very much look forward to working with you, getting to know many of you during the course of the next five years. Congratulations, and thank you. 

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