Tuesday, April 7, 2015

AMSEP Singapore for PH 2015

AMSEP Singapore for PH 2015

Last January 11-17, 2015, twelve medical students from the FEU-NRMF Institute of Medicine, SLU School of Medicine, UERMMMCI, and the UP College of Medicine were chosen to represent the Philippines in the AMSEP Singapore for Philippines 2015 hosted by the National University of Singapore - Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Although it was a mere seven days, each day was filled to the brim with lots of exciting activities, experiences and lessons about the vibrant Singaporean culture, world-class medical education and Asia-leading state of healthcare.

Just having hopped right of the plane, we were already welcomed with a tour of the world-leading Changi International Airport. The delegates were also treated with the trademark Singaporean hospitality — and there, perhaps, was no better catalyst than our first authentic Singaporean food trip at the Airport. Sharing a brave sense of adventure, love of good food, and the excitement for the experiences awaiting us all, we instantly clicked with the hosts and made friends with one another. 

Day 1: Changi Airport + Little India Tour (Sunday)

Our adventure kickstarted with a tour around Little India, one of Singapore’s most challenging, yet fulfilling areas to explore due to its teeming populace and wide variety of shops and stores which sold pretty much everything one thought of. It reminded us of Divisoria back home in Manila, just imagine the Christmas-season crowd—with probably as much as twice as dense inside the stores. The place where we stayed for the week, Phil Inn at Dickson Road, was right inside the heart of Little India, and was actually quite convenient considering its proximity to the major shopping areas such as Bugis as well as the MRT, albeit a little tricky to navigate at first — even some of our Singaporean
friends had to consult the ever-reliable Google Maps to make our way through the hustling, bustling district.  

The first stop was at the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple in Serangoon Road, where the delegates learned about the rich and diverse Hindu faith. Nandhini, one of the NUS hosts, walked us through the different gods and goddesses each governing a phenomenon or a discipline; there was one for dance (Nataraja), one for pregnancy (Sri Periachi) and for journey (Lord Ganesh) among many others.  It was the first time for most of the delegates to visit a Hindu temple, and we just marvelled at the intricate artwork and colors on the statues. An art history professor once told that Indian art employed “Horror Vacui” – which means the filling of an entire surface with art due to fear of empty space – in the architecture of their temples. True enough, they left no empty space in expressing the sheer multitude of Hindu deities with such an artistic grandeur. It reflected the devotion of the Hindu faithfuls. A soulful activity goes in and out of the temple, with every space left by one filled in by another. It seems like it has transcended through the Indian-Singaporean community in terms of filling their spaces with useful produce and their time with dutiful action.

          Going on about Little India, the group decided to split, shop and stock-up for our weeklong stay at one of Singapore’s famed shopping destinations, Mustafa Centre. It was open 24/7 and was pegged as the cornucopia of Singapore shopping. It was an establishment dedicated to offering every item one needs in a one-stop-shop fashion. From bare necessities like groceries and clothes to gadgets and electronics, and even jewelry, one will wonder at how packed this place actually is with limited floor space, which the delegates then took as an opportunity to grab some supplies and snacks for the trip, as well as gifts and sweets as pasalubong.

          With un-prestretched legs beneath us, we trudged back to the inn, but not before sampling Indian delicacies at the diner just beside Phil Inn – the place we stayed at. 

Day 2: NUS - Part 1, Marina Bay (Monday)

        And so we took our hungry minds, eager to learn, in corporate attire, to the National University of Singapore - Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. The college is housed upon a 174-hectare area at Kent Ridge, in southwest Singapore. Integrated with it is the National University Hospital, which itself is strategically and conveniently connected to the Kent Ridge MRT Station.
            We didn’t make it early for our first class, so we missed the pre-lab lecture on the Neck Anatomy by Dr. Rajendran. We attended the lecture about Carbohydrate Metabolism that followed. However, due to the unexpected turn of events, the supposed Botanical Gardens trip was rescheduled. 
The delegates simply admired the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine Lecture Hall. The seating capacity was huge, the acoustics was well-engineered, and the projecting screen provided a clear and sharp view of the presentation such that the lecture can be heard and appreciated even as one was seated at the top most. Lectures were also videotaped so that students, especially those who missed the lectures, can view and review them at the convenience of their homes or the library.

     Another interesting facet of NUS education was the increasingly progressive student-teacher dynamic, which transcended up to the cyberspace, as they made good use of the great technology available to them. Lectures were mostly made available online, and students may even schedule an online chat session with their professors.

      The group also toured around the facilities of the college. We got to take a glimpse of the auditoriums and classrooms in which plenaries and small group discussions were conducted. We were also fascinated by the fact that their library is open 24 hours for the NUS medical students – a great privilege that is! 
After the lectures, we headed to the NUS benches for a quick lunch: Fried Chicken with an Indonesian taste.
            After having lunch, some of us rested and played fun games at our NUS friend Shao Jin’s dormitory unit at the U-Town house, which was also inside the NUS complex. The others proceeded to the Patient-Based Programme (PBP), which involved a history-taking activity and preceptorial evaluation on the patients at the National University Hospital (NUH).
            It was an important learning experience for us as we immersed ourselves in the actual hospital healthcare situation of Singapore. We saw directly how Singapore has progressed in terms of state of the art facilities and the top-notch education delivered by NUS. We also saw a very informative snippet of the dynamics among the medical students, the doctors, and the patients. After the history-taking, the delegates, together with their NUS student groupmates, discussed the findings on the patients in a small group. After the visit at the hospital and the discussion of findings, a sharing of expriences with other groups commenced. There, we deconstructed the strong and weak points of the activity. The session was also an opportunity for us to share to the NUS students and faculty some facts about the health care situation in the Philippines.

            After the PBP, we had a taste of advanced, state-of-the-art medical education through the Harvey mannequin, a computer-model-driven Human Patient Simulator. Harvey basically was a mannequin responsive to changes in external conditions during a medical procedure. He could smartly and accurately simulate a physiological reaction to certain stimuli and treatment protocols. We just witnessed an in-depth approach to solving a problem-based emergency through reinforcing real time decision-making skills and dealing with pressure-packed environments — without compromising the lives of actual patients. Overall, it was a great approach in making medical education more immersive and technology-oriented for the students.

            For the next part of the trip, we headed to downtown Singapore, via one of the newer MRT routes. We landed right at the heart of Singapore’s business and tourism, the Marina Bay, which struck us instantly with its gleam and glamour. From the high-end stores in the malls, we walked under the spectacular night skyline of Marina Bay, and came across the some of the island city’s world-famous urban architectural wonders like the Helix Bridge (complete with the A-T G-C base pairs), the Float, the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Resorts and the Gardens by the Bay, all leading to the final spot, the Merlion, and consummated our first full day in the Lion City. During the long walk around Marina Bay, we got the chance to chat with our new friends from NUS. We were able to loosen up a bit more with them and had lots of laughs together. We learned about the culture of their country, and even some myths and stories about how the Merlion came about. It was a fun-filled night whilst admiring the Singapore’s nightscape. 

 Day 3: NUS - Part 2, Chinatown (Tuesday)

The first part of the day involved the continuation of our tour of the National University Hospital. Nans, Clarice and Shao Jin toured the delegates around this world-class hospital. The delegates mainly toured around the Outpatient Procedure Centre, where they were really impressed with how spacious and well-maintained the place is. The delegates then split up into different groups to explore the different areas of the centre.
            After the exciting morning touring the Hospital, we then went to the shopping center nearby to eat a hearty lunch before proceeding to another lecture on the Neck Anatomy by Dr. Rajendran. During the lecture, we were reviewed on the anatomy of the neck as preparation for the Anatomy Hall session later that day. After the lecture, the delegates then ate fruits and popiah near the lecture hall.
            While enjoying the fruits and snacks, CJ discovered that his wallet and passport was missing. He then reported it to our hosts. Nans and the team quickly responded by helping look for the passport and contacting NUH management to help out if ever he left his valuables in the hospital. CJ then separated from the group with Zi Xin to go to the Philippine embassy to secure a travel document. The rest of the delegates then made sure to keep their valuables in check after seeing the commotion.
            In the afternoon, the delegates (with the exception of CJ) then attended the Anatomy Hall session. The delegates donned their lab coats and put on some gloves and learned along with the M1 students the anatomy of the neck. Upon entering the Anatomy Hall, the delegates were surprised with how relatively pleasant the odor of the room was. Unlike the dissections in the Philippines, the cadavers in the Hall were already predissected and did not reek of formalin. After the initial impression, the delegates, with the assistance of the very helpful and accommodating professors then inspected the cadavers and enriched their learning on the anatomy of the neck and other body parts as well.
After the anatomy hall sessions, the delegates went back to Chinatown to continue with the rest of the cultural tour. In Chinatown, the delegates went around the stalls and stores and looked at goods and stuff to bring back home to the Philippines. The delegates tasted samples of delicacies such as nuts and sweetheart cakes. The delegates then explored the Buddha Tooth Relic temple, where they got awestruck at the intricate designs and the horror vacui characterizing the area. It was a marvelous temple.
            After going on a Chinese food-filled dinner in the center of Chinatown, we went to a nearby videoke bar and sang our hearts out. It started out quite slow at first as we were still shy and starting to get a feel for each other, but we were ushered in gradually by the brave singing of Bryan and Reg, who so effortlessly hit those tough notes from jolting pop songs, and then eventually, everyone brought out their A-game. It was especially difficult to get Nans to sing but eventually, she did! The delegates and hosts sung old and new songs alike, as well as some Chinese songs. By the end of the night, it seemed like no one wanted to give up the microphone.   

Day 4: Universal Studios Singapore + Sentosa (Wednesday)

With our backs, knees and feet starting to feel the weight of the adventure so far, we were glad that we could have a grand day off — and there could not have been a better place to spend it than at the vacation and recreation center of Singapore, Sentosa Island.

     The group bravely took on the exciting rides, sites and attractions at the Universal Studios Singapore. We were evidently all smiles and laughs after each one. Some of the famous rides that we tried out were the Transformers: The Ride, Shrek 4-D Adventure and Revenge of the Mummy. It was also an experience that shuttled us back to the days of our childhood, where we met our favorite TV and movie characters such as Optimus Prime and Elmo. The streets were also very festive, with different gigs and characters popping up here and there — our very own co-delegate, Reg, even got to volunteer and show off his Gangnam Style moves (and represent the Philippines, in a way) in one of the flashmob-like street-dance shows.

 Next, we moved on to see Singapore’s most famous icon: the Merlion. We explored the Merlion museum and took pictures from inside the mouth of the great statue, and then climbed up to the Merlion viewing deck for a 360-degree panorama of the Lion City. The breathtaking view was one of the best moments of the trip, as we gazed upon the grandeur of Singapore, and watched the sun slowly set over the Singaporean west coast.

Day 5: Fitness Day, Trick Eye Museum and Night Safari (Thursday)

    On Thursday morning, we explored the parks of Singapore further with a refreshing twist, by getting on bikes and cycling our way along the eastern coast of the island state. With a road spanning kilometers dedicated to jogging and cycling, we hit two birds with one stone as we bonded through chats and burned all those yummy calories from the past 3 days, and we even rented out tandem bikes for an even deeper bonding experience. There, the delegates learned more about each other’s unique quirks and idiosyncrasies, as well as more fascinating things about Singaporean lifestyle.
    After the two-hour fitness ride, we refuelled for the activities ahead with our newfound favorite, Malaysian food, then we headed (back) to Sentosa for the Trick Eye Museum.
      The Trick Eye Museum dazzled us with their eye-popping artwork and mind-twisting sculptures. Even though we had to twist and bend and turn our bodies to get the right poses, our adventurous creativity came through in the end and we managed to take unforgettable shots with the optical illusions. 

For the last part of the day, we dug deep and explored the Singapore Night Safari, home to a variety of animals in their wild, unperturbed habitat. We got to see the incredible tigers, lions and elephants, as well as other creatures from all over the world. We even had a chance to meet them up close as we trekked along the winding trails in the Safari. At the end of the day, we learned that although one could take up and read as much about places and things, nothing beats meeting these majestic animals and seeing them growl and prowl in the flesh. 

Day 6: NUS - Part 3, Botanical Gardens and Bugis, Farewell Night (Friday)
For our last full day in Singapore, we started the morning with a calming walk amongst the tall trees and the diverse flora of the Singapore Botanical Garden. Known as a popular site for tourists, it was a nice place as well for couples to date, friends to hang out, pet-lovers to walk their dogs and even set-up exercise routines and choreography with free-for-all spots for such. We also delved inside the National Orchid Garden, one of the most vibrant places in all of Singapore, which featured orchids of different hues and breeds. We also saw the famed breeds at the VIP Garden, meticulously cultivated by botany experts, and partly dedicated to local and global dignitaries who made a mark in Singapore. 
        We then moved on to the Tutorial Session at the NUS-Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. As it was the first tutorial of the new semester, the professor facilitated a quick getting-to-know-you session with our classmates, before giving an anatomical and physiological overview of the neck. There, we learned much about the variety of students in NUS, as well as their remarkable traits and achievements outside of academics. One of our classmates was National Rugby Player, the other one a first Dan Taekwondo Black Belter, and the other one a renowned debater in junior high, which was quite a commendable aspect of the education system in Singapore, which not only trains students to excel in their academics, but also in various skills and hobbies that they wished to pursue.

         Following the tutorial, we then went to the NUS Co-op for some last-minute NUS souvenirs and t-shirts, and then we headed straight to the Bugis district for the ultimate souvenir shopping experience, which was then followed by our preparations for our Farewell Night.
      After some last-minute cramming rehearsals for our presentations as well as preparing our tokens, we then dressed into our Filipiniana costumes and proceeded to Hui Juns HDB building where we had our Cultural Night. The Filipinos performed first, dancing a piece depicting the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo. We then had a (pseudo-) fashion show presenting the Barong Tagalog as well as the Barot Saya and some native clothing that Filipinos wear. After the delegates presented, we then had a few games involving lots of food tasting and blindfolds. The delegates even introduced Pinoy Henyo, a common Filipino game, to the hosts.  Bryan and Patrick then presented a song number, which was greeted with a warm applause from their admirers. Knowing it was the delegates last night, they then took numerous pictures and selfies and gave their tokens of appreciation to their buddies

Day 7: Ang Mo Kio Community Health Service, Departure

            For the last part of the trip, we then had an opportunity to help out as medical students in the community health screening activity in a residential community in Ang Mo Kio, in partnership with the Singapore Heart Foundation. The delegates were separated into groups and then assigned to conduct a door-to-door checkup and survey of the residents. As respect to the privacy of the household, the data and observations we got were asked to be kept confidential. It is admirable, however, that the Singaporean government, being known as having first-world healthcare, is still reaching out to the community level to provide their constituents adequate primary healthcare. The organisers are also commendable in allowing us to be exposed, first-hand,  to the community situation in Singapore and even interact with patients, fostering strong foreign relationship with the locals.

            At noon, we were done with the activity, and we then set off towards the Changi Airport, leaving Singapore at a high and heart-warming note.

            A rewarding experience in itself, National University of Singapore education has proven to remain at the pinnacle of medical education in Asia, and definitely world-leading in terms of facilities, faculty and students. Anyone from anywhere in the world can easily call Singapore their home away from home because of the warmness and hospitality of the people, most especially our
hosts, who exuded friendliness, approachability and the utmost patience during the entire duration of the trip. 
        One of the things we absolutely loved about the trip was the flexibility of the hosts in terms of taking into account our concerns and the places that we’d want to visit which weren’t included in the itinerary. Singapore was quite small, and it enabled us to take a little bit of detours. It all worked out for everyone’s best interests. The hosts budgeted the whole tour perfectly. They took us through smart routes, and brought us to excellent meal choices. With few bucks at hand, the tickets to Universal Studios Singapore, which we were supposed to pay half its price, became free for us. They even took us to a fancy farewell lunch at Swenson’s, Changi Airport, just before departure. Thanks to their very efficient system and budgeting.
To conclude, all the amazing moments that we experienced and shared in the little time we spent at Singapore, could not be contained within a piece of narrative, nor an album of pictures. The magic of the Merlion, as the legend says, varies from one person to another, but is sure to stay with them for a lifetime. Among many others, the real magic that a Filipino medical student can acquire from Singapore is the idea that a humble city-state can rise above as a world-leader in health and medical science. Through adequate support from the government, synergy among the community and determination and hard work from its people, all is possible. With this in mind, the Philippines can only ascend with an impetus of change, driven largely by a great participation of us medical students to engage in nation-building. 


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