|22 Jun 2020|
ISKL Alumna, Anne Chua (‘15), is preparing to start work as a junior doctor in the UK, having just graduated from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. With COVID-19 continuing to reshape how many work and live, Anne shares with us her excitement and apprehension about her new role, as well as many wonderful memories of her high school years at ISKL.
1. ISKL was your third international school experience, after Taipei American School and Shanghai American School Pudong. Tell us about your time at the old Ampang campus?
ISKL had the slogan of 'big school opportunities with small school feel' and I think that pretty much sums up my experience at ISKL. ISKL (the old Ampang campus) was the smallest international school I attended but was also the closest knit community I had throughout my childhood years. I made some of my closest friends during my time at ISKL as well as the closest relationships with teachers and staff members. After having moved around a few times, it felt like the perfect way to conclude four years of high school at ISKL, being in a community that I felt that I belonged to. The facilities at the new ISKL campus are also extraordinary and current ISKL students are very lucky to have them.
2. Did you study the IB or other courses? Did you realise already at school that Medicine was the path for you?
I studied the IB and did one AP course at ISKL. My IB results were essential to get into a medical school in the UK, with conditional scores that needed to be achieved. During high school I didn't know that I wanted to study medicine. I liked economics as well as the sciences. So I decided to do 4 HL courses including biology, chemistry, math, and economics. When I had to apply to university, I chose to apply for medicine in the UK and economics in the US. They are...very different subjects. I had initially confirmed my place at UCLA to study economics, but was awaiting my IB results to see if I would get into medical school. My economics (Mr. Fisher) and science teachers (Mr. Huang and Mr. Goodman) were extremely supportive, though ultimately I felt more inclined to pursue a career in medicine. All of my ISKL teachers were exceptionally dedicated to helping me achieve the IB results I needed to get into medical school. After five years of studying medicine, I don't regret my choice of medicine (though I'd always wondered what it'd be like to live in sunny LA!).
3. Did you have any favourite teachers and memories of ISKL you would like to share?
I have too many fond memories of ISKL (and thankfully many photos of them on my laptop), so I will try my best to limit these to a few.
IASAS events were some of the best experiences I had. I was extremely fortunate that I was able to participate in both IASAS tennis and dance despite their overlapping seasons during the school year. If Mr. Muir (my HS counsellor) reads this, he would also want me to say that I participated in IASAS golf. IASAS sport was lots of fun getting to compete against new people every year but also gave me terrible tans playing in the Malaysian heat. Culcon was a whole different experience where you participated together and showcased your performance that took months to put together! Having attended a sister IASAS school previously (TAS), it was exciting getting to meet some of my old friends again. Karen Palko, our dance mom, was always so accommodating of my busy schedule. We probably spent too much time during dance season with Palko, sometimes late on weekends even, but that was the fun of it. Everyone at ISKL knew Palko even if they had never taken any classes with her. Palko is truly an inspiration to everyone she meets. I'm also very glad that she still has her youtube channel with videos from our performances. My favorite dance show will have to be "Ephemeral" in my junior year as it had a very special meaning to what events were happening at ISKL at the time.
GAP was another ISKL experience that I will never forget! I went to Nepal, India, and Tibet. Never did I think that I would have such unique experiences traveling to these countries as well as providing community service to those in need. This also emphasized the importance of community service to me, which led me to take part in some medical mission trips during university.
Student council with Ms. Caroline Tan (or as we used to call her, "Smom" aka stuco mom) was another memorable experience. Some of my best friends were part of Stuco, and having the opportunity to have meetings with them after school was really just an excuse to hangout with my friends more. Some other fun memories I have of ISKL are Mr. Huang's bag that he carries around all the time, Mr. Brown's ball drop (for the dreaded physics pop quizzes), Mr. Ortiz's wise words at our graduation, Ms. Sahari's 10-minute reading time, and Mr. Millard's bag muncher that collected bags that were left on the decks.
I could go on about all the other fond memories I had (prom, senior prank, semi-formals, spring fest, spirit week, etc) but to sum it all up, all the experiences I had at ISKL outside of the normal academic hours especially, was what made ISKL so memorable. ISKL taught me to get involved, and they might just be the best experiences you have.
4. Has your international experience given you any notable benefit when it comes to adjusting to study in a new country, mixing with new people and making friends?
The international school experience has definitely taught me how to adjust to new environments quickly. That being said, after moving three times and becoming so comfortable at ISKL, it was hard to move once again to a brand new environment. However, the international school experience definitely broadened my perspectives and taught me a lot about different cultures. Having met people from all over the world, it made it easier to integrate when I moved to the UK. It taught me to be open-minded and willing to try new things.
A recurring question that I have been asked in the UK however, is where I'm from. Some people say I sound American, some say I sound Canadian, and others just say I sound "International". It's always a long story trying to explain where I'm from and where I've lived, but also a good conversation opener.
5. Tell us about your time at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry... why did you choose this school and what has your overall experience been? Would you recommend it to other ISKL graduates?
I chose to study at Barts because of its long-standing reputation and its location in London. Barts is situated in East London, near Shoreditch, which is what people describe as the Brooklyn of London. It's known as the hipster area with lots of fun stuff to do!
Medical schools in the UK have a quota on how many international students they can take, and this varies from single digits to 20-30 students. This makes it extremely competitive to get in and most of the cohort will be from the EU or UK. This was a challenge for getting into medical school as well as the environment I would be in. Going from IB to medical school was a steep learning curve, it felt like I was learning a new language from scratch. The IB prepared me for the rigorous amounts of studying but not so much the new medical content. This was one thing that differed from choosing a major such as economics or biology, where you could build upon the knowledge you had since high school. However, it does get easier, and the clinical years when you get to go on the wards (years three-five), are definitely when you feel like all the studying is worth it.
During my years at Barts, I was still close to the ISKL community and had organized the annual CNY reunion at a popular Chinese restaurant. This was great fun to celebrate CNY with old friends seeing that we could not be back home to celebrate with our families. This tradition has now been passed on to younger ISKL alumni to organize and I'm glad that the tradition has continued. I also had opportunities to catch up with some ISKL teachers in London, including Mr. Cheng and Ms. Sahari.
A majority of ISKL students tend to lean towards going to the US, in which med school takes a total of eight years minimum (four years undergrad and four years postgrad). I would recommend that ISKL students consider studying in the UK as it only takes five-six years to become a doctor (and three years for most other courses). I would also highly recommend Barts to anyone who is thinking of applying for medicine in the UK (but do check their entry requirements as these change all the time). It feels a little similar to ISKL in the sense that it is a 'smaller community' compared to some of the bigger universities such as UCL and Imperial, though those are also great schools.
6. You're about to start work as a junior doctor. Are you looking forward to this next step?
I'm starting work as a junior doctor at Southampton General Hospital. After five years of living in London, it would be a nice change to move to a different part of the UK. The junior doctor training programme is two years, with six four-month rotations. The rotations that I will be undertaking in the next two years include old age psychiatry, geriatrics, trauma and orthopaedics, cardiology, neurosurgery, and emergency medicine. Being a junior doctor is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I am really looking forward to starting work!
7. How confident are you about starting your working life, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic persisting in the UK?
Due to COVID-19, some of my experiences have been cut short. I was supposed to have a six-week elective period in which I had arranged to go to Stanford to shadow a cardiothoracic surgeon as well as an attachment back home in Singapore. A three-week student assistantship program organized by the university in which we shadow a junior doctor had also been cancelled. Unfortunately our graduation has also been postponed, but I am still really looking forward to this, as our graduation is normally at St. Paul's Cathedral!
So truthfully, I am feeling a little less confident than I would like to have been. Some of my colleagues have already started work as an interim foundation doctor during the pandemic. Fortunately, I do feel that Barts has prepared me well enough with a good base to begin work in about a month. No one could have seen COVID-19 coming, and our year of graduating doctors will just have to take things as they come. I'm confident that this will only help us learn and grow as doctors.
8. Do you plan to specialise or pursue any particular field in Medicine?
I used to say I was keen on surgery, paediatric surgery in particular. However, as the clinical years have gone by, I've come to realize that there are so many medical specialties to choose from, and as a student, you don't get to experience all of it to really know what you want to do for the rest of your life. I'm keeping an open mind for now, with an inclination towards a surgical specialty. I'm looking forward to my jobs in the next two years as well as doing some taster sessions in other specialties to see what I will enjoy specializing in.
9. What do you miss about ISKL, KL and Malaysia in general?
I miss my friends, teachers, the roti canai and RM1 nasi lemak, the outdoor decks, and the after-school practices. I miss being able to see familiar faces every single day. Being an international student makes meeting up with friends hard, as my closest friends now all live in different countries all over the world. But this also provides us with opportunities to travel and visit different places in the world! HS at ISKL was really some of the best times I had.
I also miss the food in KL, the late night mamak visits, the hangout spots on the weekend, and the convenience of meeting my friends living in the same city. I do at times miss the humidity and heat in KL compared to the gloomy rainy weather in London. KL really does feel like my second home, and I am looking forward to my next visit back and to see the new ISKL campus.
10. Any last words?
I'm proud to be an ISKL alumna and am thankful for the incredible opportunities I had at ISKL. Take the opportunities that ISKL offer and don't be afraid to aim high. I did not think I would get into medical school or come this far, but hard work does pay off. I had so much fun in high school and will always remember the fun times I had.
(Anne's experience as a young doctor during the pandemic was featured on the BBC documentary "Hospital and Home: Our Lives" in 2021. Watch the full video here.)
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