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What began in 2003 as a unique idea for an innovative approach to medical education to complement the ambitious Biomedical Sciences Initiative in Singapore will culminate on May 28 as the inaugural class of 24 medical students at the Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School celebrate the completion of their medical education training.

While the students do not officially graduate until early July as part of the NUS graduation ceremonies, a celebration of the graduating class highlighted by Singaporean Ministry officials, the U.S. ambassador, and senior leaders from NUS and the Duke School of Medicine will recognize the historic achievements of the first cohort.

“The Duke-NUS collaboration was born of outrageous ambition and great promise, with the goal of developing a new generation of physician-scientists who would be transnational leaders in medical research, education, and patient care,” said Victor J. Dzau, MD, Duke chancellor for health affairs and CEO of Duke University Health System.

“It is gratifying to see that ambition and promise realized, as we celebrate the outstanding achievements of this first class and their role in creating a dynamic institution that will become one of the leading medical schools in Asia.”

The Duke-NUS educational model is an innovative departure from the English system traditional in Singapore and throughout many parts of Asia. It incorporates Duke’s unique curriculum -- which condenses basic-science study into one year instead of the usual two, giving students earlier clinical experience as well as an entire year devoted to independent research -- with Duke-NUS’ new, technology-supported model of team-based learning to create physician-scientists at home, in clinical, or research settings.

In a short six years, Duke-NUS has matured rapidly, growing from 16 faculty and staff to more than 850. That includes 83 regular-rank faculty, many of whom are internationally recognized biomedical researchers. Duke-NUS’ research programs are robust, with faculty attracting more than $81 million (U.S.) in competitive research funding and publishing more than 370 papers in high-profile, international peer-reviewed journals.

The students’ achievements at Duke-NUS exceeded all expectations. On the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), Duke-NUS students scored significantly higher than the U.S. national average on the Basic Science Exam and higher than the U.S. national average on the Clinical Knowledge Exam.

“These are wonderful students, and they will be excellent physicians -- bright, accomplished, committed to service and with a truly global perspective,” said Duke-NUS Dean Ranga Krishnan, MB, ChB. “We can be very proud of them as the first to graduate under the Duke-NUS banner.”

The future promises more of the same, with three more fully enrolled, diverse classes of high-quality students behind this year’s graduating class and a new fully enrolled class arriving in the fall.

In all, Duke-NUS enrolls 186 MD students and 12 PhD students from 21 countries and 39 undergraduate institutions, among them Oxford, Cambridge, Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.

As a result, Duke-NUS is well-positioned to play an increasingly important role in producing more doctors for Singapore, which faces a shortage of physicians, and is seeking physician-scientists to support the advancement of Singapore’s $5 billion Biomedical Sciences Initiative.

"In terms of university partnerships on a global scale, there are not many like Duke-NUS. In terms of medical school partnerships, there are none,” said Patrick Casey, PhD, senior vice dean for research at Duke-NUS, citing its unique commitment to producing research-trained physician-scientists.

The story began in 2000, when the government of Singapore launched the Biomedical Sciences Initiative with the goal of establishing the city-state of 5 million people as the biomedical hub of Southeast Asia.

Key to that effort was creation of an American-style graduate-level medical school designed to complement the British-model undergraduate medical school at NUS.

Singapore approached Duke as a potential partner because of its unique research-oriented medical school curriculum and its track record of producing leaders in academic medicine, research, industry, and clinical care delivery.

After a memorandum of understanding was signed in 2003, the Duke-NUS partnership was formalized in April 2005 and, with a host of milestones planned on a seven-year horizon completed in a little more than four years, was extended in November 2010 for another five years.

Duke-NUS welcomed its first class in August 2007, with most of the 24 students coming from biology, life sciences, and engineering backgrounds. The first class had bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees from a host of leading universities, including NUS and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

In July, the graduates will move into medical residency training in areas including internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, anesthesia, and obstetrics and gynecology.

“Duke-NUS is a real success story,” said Michael Merson, MD, director of the Duke Global Health Institute and vice chancellor for Duke-NUS affairs. “What has been accomplished there since its founding is tremendous.”