NUS medical student wins top poetry prize from international academic journal

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SINGAPORE — Inspired by an encounter with an elderly colorectal cancer patient, medical student Faye Ng has penned a meditative poem about the taciturn man and the stories behind his scars.

Last month, her article, A Pink Crease, won the top poetry prize from one of the world’s most-cited medical journals.

She is the first undergraduate student to receive the award, which annually recognizes the best poem published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The medical journal is one of many that devotes space to reflective writing and poems typically written by doctors.

Ms Ng, 23, a fourth-year student at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore, wrote the poem several months after meeting the elderly man in the general surgery ward during his assignment in a hospital for surgical training in 2020.

The man in his 60s had advanced colorectal cancer and the disease had spread to other parts of his body.

“He was always very sullen and reluctant and didn’t really want to talk to the doctors. I tried to befriend him and was curious to know more about his condition,” she recalled.

“One day he opened up to me a bit and showed me some of his scars from previous operations.”

Touched by her conversations with him, she wrote the poem and submitted it to the newspaper in May last year, after encouragement from a mentor.

She was quite happy to see it released a few months later in November, so landing an award was a nice bonus.

She doesn’t know what happened to the man after he finished his assignment, as medical students don’t usually keep in touch with patients.

Ms. Ng, whose parents are teachers, will donate the US$500 (S$682) prize money to the National University Hospital (NUH) Children’s Fund, which supports needy patients at Khoo Teck Puat – National University Children’s Medical Institute at NUH.

She said she started writing poetry in high school, after a friend in her school’s social studies program introduced her to poetry.

As a science student planning to read for medicine, she pursued her interest in poetry on the fringes through the Ministry of Education’s Creative Arts Program, a week-long intensive writing seminar for budding writers.

She was also mentored by local writer Desmond Kon and later attended the Sing Lit Station Manuscript Boot Camp twice while in medical school.

“I write in bursts… If I feel inspired by something, if I feel like something needs to be said, then I will write,” said Ms Ng, who hopes to produce her best works in a collection. of manuscripts.

She compares her poems to “glass jars” in which she stores some of the most memorable experiences of her life.

Her interest in medical-themed poetry developed at university, and she referred to such physician-writers as the British neurologist Oliver Sacks, the late Canadian physician Sir William Osler, and the late American neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, who battled lung cancer.

She also enjoys reading the works of American poets Sharon Olds and Ada Limon, among others.

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