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COL(DR) Shalini Arulanandam, Singapore

The NUS MBA Class of 2020
Chief Medical Officer, Singapore Civil Defence Force

Describe your personal brand.

In any job, all you leave behind is your reputation, and all you take with you are your friendships. As such – give your best in everything you do, and always work with your people in mind.

What were you doing before The NUS MBA?

In 1998, I was lucky enough to be the first female to receive a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) scholarship to study medicine. After graduating from NUS med school, I joined the Navy as a medical officer and served in several appointments, sailing for several operations and exercises. I also completed my Masters in Medicine and speciality training in Otolaryngology (Ear Nose and Throat Surgery), including a one-year fellowship in the UK to specialise in disorders of the voice, airway and swallowing.

After coming back from the UK in 2016, I served as the Commanding Officer of the Medical Classification Centre in MINDEF – a touch point for every Singaporean son as part of the enlistment journey.

At the same time that I took up the MBA in July 2018, I was seconded to the Singapore Civil Defence Force as its Chief Medical Officer, where I have worked to date while pursuing my MBA part time.

Why did you pick NUS?

NUS has always been a huge part of my life – it was where I did my undergrad studies, met my husband, and studied for all my post-grad exams. So, it holds a sense of belonging for me, and I am confident of its reputation as a university. Also, I was interested in the MBA specialisation in Healthcare Management, which was unique among the other local programmes that I looked at.

Please share your key achievements and leadership roles on the programme.

What has been the single most stand-out experience of your MBA?

I think what will really stand out in my memory years down the road is that the COVID-19 outbreak fell smack in the middle of my second year. I was impressed with how NUS and my lecturers rapidly adapted to the changing regulations every week, gradually stepping down the size of the class and then going fully online. I didn’t think it would be possible, but we part-timers with full-time jobs actually managed to navigate around the various online platforms and deliver group presentations and projects without any face-to-face contact, even as some of us were going through unprecedented challenges at work. Some lecturers were particularly impressive in how well they adapted their teaching methods to engage us online, such that we didn’t feel anything was lacking. I really think this will be a paradigm shift in how an MBA will be conducted in the future.

Tell me something about The NUS MBA that others might not know.

You can’t get away from group assignments and presentations in the MBA, but with good reason. The class is curated to have a good mix of nationalities, talents, and backgrounds, and as a doctor with little knowledge in business, finance, economics, for example, I have been saved by my classmates’ deep expertise in these subjects many times. Doing group work with almost-strangers also forces you out of your comfort zone, and makes you more ready to engage with others outside your tribe in your daily life as well.

Who is your personal hero? What is it about him/her that you admire?

I admire working mothers everywhere, because this has always been a challenge for me. I have also worked with wonderful bosses in my career, such as my previous SAF Chief of Medical Corps and previous Commander CMPB at MINDEF, who showed me what leadership with a heart translates to on a daily basis.

Where do you see yourself in 5 - 10 years’ time?

The next five to 10 years will see me retiring from uniformed service. I am still in the first “job” I have ever had and I will need to learn how to attend formal job interviews for the first time! This planned career transition is one of the reasons why I wanted to do an MBA – to equip myself with the knowledge I felt I would need to be confident to apply for a job, perhaps in the field of healthcare management. I am not sure of exactly where yet, as it is still early days, but I hope to find a second career that will continue to challenge me, and where I feel I can make a difference.

What advice would you give to other MBA aspirants?

I would advise anyone thinking about furthering their studies to just go for it. There is something about learning something totally new that gives you renewed energy and makes you feel younger, in a way.

Read more about Shalini’s experience here

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