Hers is a story of persistence. In secondary school, Nuralyah Razali toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor. But she shook it off when she felt that her dream was far-fetched. Being from a neighbourhood school, she didn’t feel that she was good enough. But her GCE ‘O’ Level results proved her wrong; she had qualified for junior college. Two years later, upon graduating from junior college with excellent grades, she applied to study Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Unfortunately, competition was stiff and she did not make the cut. Disapponted, Alyah abandoned her dream and decided instead to pursue a different field of study in NUS. Four years later in 2015, Alyah graduated with a bachelor’s degree (with honors) in Life Sciences, specializing in Biomedical Science.
Alyah’s colorful experiences in her undergraduate years reignited her dream of becoming a doctor. In her first and second year at NUS, Alyah volunteered with NUS Student Union Volunteer Action Committee (NVAC) at the National University Hospital’s children’s ward. Every week for two hours, she interacted and played with the young patients. However, even as she made the children happy, Alyah felt helpless when they were in pain. She watched as doctors and nurses came to the aid of the children.
Later in her third year at NUS, Alyah participated in an NUS community project, “Inspiring India,” in Bangalore. She and other volunteers taught English, Mathematics, Science and basic hygiene at a children’s home. In Bangalore, Alyah met Surekha, a 12 year old girl who inspired her to fight for her dreams. Surekha was responsible for taking care of the younger girls in the children’s home. Despite her heavy responsibilities, the young girl was determined to excel in her education. Surekha was wise beyond her years. She believed that with a good education, she would be equipped with the tools to improve her life and the lives of those around her. Surekha’s discipline paid off as she earned a near-perfect score in an entry test to the school that she had dreamed of entering. Alyah was so moved by Surekha’s unrelenting determination that she decided to pursue her own dream of becoming a doctor and vowed to continue serving others at every opportunity.
Determined to make her dream a reality, Alyah began studying for the the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) for prospective students seeking to study medicine. Alyah would be tested on English as well as Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Since her knowledge on Physics was limited to what she had learnt in secondary school, Alyah had to start from scratch. She strategized by signing up for modules that would improve her knowledge on Physics. Studying for the MCAT amidst her final year project (FYP) was intense. Her days would begin at 9am and end at 10pm. Most of her time was spent in the Synaptic Plasticity and Memory Lab working on her FYP and the library studying for the MCAT.
Fortunately, Alyah received tremendous support during those trying times. When she was too exhausted, her mother would remind her of her purpose and potential to make a positive difference to society. Driving her to school, her father would give her words of encouragement as she listened quietly, too tired to respond. Alyah’s FYP mentor, Mahima Sharma, a second year PhD candidate as well as President’s Scholar, was kind-hearted, fiercely determined and always pushed her to do better. “When I stayed long hours in the lab, she did too.” Her professor, Assistant Professor Sajikumar Sreedharan, also encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor and guided her in her FYP. “He would always try to expand my research to make it better, always trying to see how I can improve.” The guidance that Alyah received as well as her own hard work paid off; she eventually passed her MCAT and scored an A for her FYP.
Her success landed her several offers from medical schools abroad. After much deliberation, Alyah made the decision to study medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Flinders’ sensitivity to cultural differences and commitment to the progress of ethnic minorities appealed to Alyah. In fact, half of the medical students are Aboriginals or from rural communities in Australia. As an ethnic minority herself, Alyah felt comfortable being in a place that was committed to ensuring equal opportunities for all.
As perfect as everything sounds, this is not where the story ends. After securing a place at Flinders, Alyah was now confronted with the problem of financing her expensive education abroad. Determined, she sent a total of 220 emails to ministers, organizations and philantropists in her efforts to obtain funding. Some responded in the negative. Some never responded. Some even asked her, “Why are you going to medical school if you have no money?” When asked how that made her feel, Alyah shrugged and said, “rejection hurts but it is definitely humbling.”
Despite the financial woes, Alyah refused to let go of her dream. She held on tighter. She took it upon herself to make her dream happen. She took up various jobs. While still an undergraduate at NUS, she worked part time at Little Professors, a student care center, mentoring primary school children. During her semester breaks, she would work full time. In her undergraduate years, Alyah also personally tutored secondary school students as a means of funding her future education. Later upon graduating, Alyah toiled harder and began personally tutoring as many as 9 secondary school students in Mathematics and Science. Through her own efforts, Alyah earned enough money to partially support her living expenses for the first year abroad. With added financial support from family members and several sponsors, Alyah is closer to achieving her dream.
A month from now, Alyah will be flying to Adelaide and beginning her life as a medical student. When asked about how she forsees the 4 years ahead of her in medical school, Alyah replied, “it will be a lonely but rewarding journey.” According to Alyah, the reward is making her parents proud and being able to serve the community back in Singapore. She hopes to set an example for students who do not believe that they are good enough to pursue their dreams. Her message is clear: “If I can do it, they can do it too.”