Lesley Pua Jia Wei began his journey at the International Medical University (IMU) in 2014 when he joined its Foundation in Science (FIS) programme. Upon completion of the FiS programme, he then enrolled into the Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons) programme (BPharm) at the same university and graduated in 2019. In 2020, he decided to fuel his passion into a postgraduate Master of Science by research programme and complete his Provisional Registered Pharmacist (PRP) through the liberalised R&D Academia track at IMU. Lesley shares his “from zero to hero” story on his IMU journey here.
So why I choose IMU in the first place? I found out about IMU from one of my family members who had graduated from IMU with a Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons) and is now an experienced pharmacist working in a community pharmacy setting. It is also undeniable that IMU is recognised as one of the most established private medical and health sciences university in Malaysia. The University has also established a high-quality education system, and together with a well-designed study area, provides a good study environment for its students. So, I began my university life by joining the Foundation in Science (FiS) programme at IMU.
One of the most memorable experiences that I had while I was studying my FiS was the newspaper recycling activity, one of the biggest community activities that IMU has conducted. The activity was conducted together with 140 students who were in same batch with me.
Another big event I had joined during FiS was the drama performance at the Art and Cultural Festival. Our Programme Director, Sharon had invited and recruited some of us to perform a drama about Malaysian culture. To be honest, my English language skills improved a lot with my involvement in this activity as it involved script memorising and language fluency beside acting skills. I am also glad that I was able to enjoy practising and rehearsing with a bunch of friendly course mates. Those days were truly unforgettable.
Apart from being active in the co-curriculum activities, I also studied and worked hard for my FiS workshops, assignments and assessments. With the help of the awesome, friendly, helpful and dedicated lecturers, I got through FiS with flying colours. I believe that the FiS course has sharpened our skills and knowledge so that we are well-prepared for our degree life.
Why did I decide to continue my studies in pharmacy or the IMU BPharm programme?
Well, I always have an interest in how medicines work in the human body since young. Also, my enthusiasm towards medicine gets stronger when two of my close relatives died of cancer. This makes me wonder why cancer is still untreatable and incurable even though there are some chemotherapies available in the market. Moreover, pharmacy provide more detailed understanding about pharmacology, mechanism of action and relationship between medicine, diseases and human being instead of correlating between chemical and cells only, as with other courses such as degrees in Biomedical Science and Pharmaceutical Chemistry.
Both programmes (Fis and BPharm) provide excellent integration of both theories (lectures) and practical (hands-on) sessions in every semester. During BPharm, we have the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) sessions whereby students were divided into small groups to discuss clinical cases with the lecturers. I found it very helpful as it illustrates clear understanding about how to think critically and apply the concept in real life practices. I still remember vividly my course mates and I always having self-group practice sessions just before the OSCE sessions whereby we will brainstorm the possible questions that will be asked, medications to suggest and points to ponder.
During my studies in the pharmacy programme, I was also involved in a community project: visiting and monitoring the lifestyle of the elderly in Rumah Charis. Led by Dr Louis, my teammates and I managed to teach them the correct hand hygiene and bring joy to them through the visits. The smile and happiness that I saw on their faces really made my day. I think that IMU provides a good way for us to learn how to serve the community well as a healthcare professional.
IMU also provides industrial placements for us so that we can apply the knowledge on machine and formulation that we learnt from the theory to real-life work. I joined Novugen Pharma as a research assistant in my 2 months industrial placement during my Semester 6 with the help of Dr Naga. It is a new pharmaceutical company which originated from Dubai. During my placement, I learnt that the role of pharmacist in an industrial company is very important: in manufacturing, QC/QA, marketing and regulatory affair department. This is to ensure that the drug produced by the company will be safe or as efficient as the original brands (innovator drug) before and after release to the market.
Pharmacist as a researcher in an industrial company mainly focusses on developing a new or existing excipient/formulation with the drug being as efficient as the original brands (innovator drug). Before that, they will search for research articles and check for patency so that they can proceed without infringing any copyright issue. I am pleased that I was exposed to such a great company which allows me to learn about the roles of a pharmacist in the industrial field. On top of that, I gained a lot of hands-on experience as a research assistant in the industrial field throughout this attachment.
Maintaining Study-life Balance
As a student, I learnt the importance of maintaining study-life balance. I am glad that I managed to cope with the study-life balance through my active participation in the various activities organised by IMU such as the annual IMU Cup and Chariofare. I participated in bowling competitions and successfully helped my sport house to gain winning marks. The hard work in practising for our competitions for countless days finally paid off. IMU certainly provided us with a good platform for a well-rounded student life.
Being chosen to be a member of Dr Low May Lee’s research team during my final year project has allowed me to explore and gain amazing experiences. The project was aimed to determine the antibacterial activity of new chemical compounds called Schiff as a base towards multi-resistant bacteria. I also appreciated very much the golden opportunity to visit and complete my mobility research project at École Normale Supérieure (ENS), Paris, one of the most prestigious higher educational institutions in France. With the guidance of a co-supervisor in Paris, Dr Nicolas Delsuc, this research attachment gave me the chance to widen my knowledge, learn more about bioinorganic chemistry research and enhance my laboratory techniques while working in a conducive research environment. I really enjoyed sharing the cultural and educational differences between France and Malaysia with the people I met back at ENS, Paris.
I am glad that I could graduate as a pharmacist throughout these challenging yet fruitful study life at IMU, yet it comes with other choices in life. There were several job opportunities available such as those in the hospital, community, industrial and research and development (R&D) fields. In the end, I chose the R&D field as my PRP attachment.
What had inspired me to do so is my family background and support from family and friends. They told me that learning is a lifelong process and cannot be stopped. Death of a close relative due to cancer also boosts my curiosity and determination to study further about the cancer field. In addition, the placement in Novugen Pharma had increased my interest to work in research in the future.
My postgraduate project is different as compared to my final year project during undergraduate. It is more on the mechanism of a pathway (p38 MAPK) affect the survival of nasopharyngeal cancer, funded under the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS) with 2 years contract.
My PRP Journey
I started my PRP journey for research module within 9 months of graduating with my pharmacy degree and had a hospital attachment for 3 months as per criteria set by Pharmacy Board of Malaysia. I started my hospital attachment at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur around mid- October 2020. The most challenging part was the fact that I was financing myself for these 3 months unlike those doing PRP in government or private hospitals, community pharmacies and pharmaceutical industries. I must say it is a very challenging path that I have chosen but I have no regrets as I was able to learn, recall and re-apply the clinical knowledge that I have learnt, putting them to good use. I am also grateful for the guidance of the pharmacists and staff there, which really trained me well to become a true pharmacist.
PRP under R&D track was never about making the right or wrong decision, it was a very good experience I must say. However, it is not without any challenges. I have encountered some unhappy days doing lab work such as experimental failure, spillage of bioactive substances and doing all the unnecessary mistakes which had wasted a lot of time. Research involves numerous repetitions to optimise the experimental procedures. It was not an easy task, but I am glad that I was brave and determined enough to go through it and made good progress in my project, with the determined spirit as can be seen and learnt from Dato’ Lee Chong Wei, a Malaysian badminton hero.
To be the pioneer male BPharm alumnus FRP under Research and Development (R&D) Academia track, I am thankful to my main supervisor (Prof Leong Chee Onn), co-supervisors (Dr Mai Chun Wai), PRP preceptor as well as my co-supervisor (Dr Lim Wei Meng), family and friends who have always supported me in every way they could. I am also delighted to help my project supervisor in another project and managed to publish my very first research paper in Cancer Letters as a co-author.
On the whole, studying at IMU has been an enriching journey filled with excitement, discovery, achievements and prospects. I can’t believe how much I have grown over the years, both professionally and personally. IMU has shaped me into the person that I am today, allowing me to achieve my dreams and I am always proud to be a part of IMU.
As a quote by John Heywood said: “Rome is not built in a day”.