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IMU Medical Alumna is Recipient of Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment 2017

30 Jan 2018

The IMU is always proud of its alumni’s achievements. We recently found out that one of our medical alumni, Dr Sophia Rasheeqa Ismail has been awarded the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment 2017 at an award presentation ceremony on 13 December 2017 at the Malaysian Petroleum Club, Petronas Twin Towers. The Alumni Office immediately reached out to Dr Sophia for an exclusive interview about the achievement. Describe a little about yourself and your education background I am a medical doctor and a proud mother of a beautiful 5-year old daughter. I have been working under the Ministry of Health for the past 7 years, with 4 years spent in clinical medicine, doing rotations in Hospital Putrajaya and Klinik Kesihatan Johol, Negeri Sembilan. I have been in research for just a little over 2 years, after my Masters, with the Institute for Medical Research (IMR). Currently, I am with the Cardiovascular, Diabetes and Nutrition Research Centre in IMR. I joined IMU as batch M2/05 following my A-Levels at HELP University College, Kuala Lumpur. Having had a few years of experience as a clinician, I then decided to venture into Public Health because of the impact that public health measures have on the society. Knowing that its efforts and decisions affect individuals, communities and at times the entire nation’s health, this made me pursue my MSc Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom. As for community work, I am actively involved in IMARET’s health clinic for Rohingya refugees since 2015 and I have also been to Cambodia with Hospital Beyond Boundaries. What was the award given for? The Grant is given for a 3-month attachment. Some information on the award This is a nationwide competition designed for qualified and deserving young Malaysians between the ages of 22-35 to secure a grant and engage in short-term collaborative projects or programmes at an internationally-recognised host institutions for selected disciplines. Only 2 recipients are awarded every year. However, during my year, 3 recipients were awarded with the Grant. It is named the Merdeka Award to commemorate the true spirit of independence, which transcends the conventional definition of national sovereignty. The end goal is to promote thought leadership and innovation, foster a culture of excellence and encourage world-view. Describe the application process towards this award In order to commemorate the spirit of Merdeka, the application for the Award was opened throughout the month of August with the closing date on Merdeka Day. As the Grant is for a short term project/attachment to be performed within 3 months, a brief proposal was required.

Creating a proposal that is concise and understandable in simple English was honestly very challenging but rewarding nonetheless. It was important to describe what can be achieved from the three-month attachment and how the outcomes of the attachment will benefit the Malaysians at large.

As the years go by, it became increasingly difficult to compete for the grant, therefore, it was important to spend time writing the proposal and essay. These were essential as the Selection Committee would only shortlist a handful for the interview. The interview was held at the Petronas Tower 1 and conducted by a panel made up of members from the Merdaka Award Board of Trustees.

How did you feel when you knew that you won the award?
I was absolutely thrilled! When I went for the interview, I felt very small compared to the other candidates. Most of them were PhD holders and lecturers. Thus, they have had quite a number of years of experience in research. Having won the award is such an unbelievable blessing, which I could not have done without the support and prayers from my loving family, wonderful colleagues and bosses.

What is the significance of the award to you? The Award means a lot to me. It is an acknowledgment of my work in the research field. It has also proven that it is not about how long you have been in the research field, but about the passion and desire to achieve excellence. I am the first proud recipient of this award for IMR and also the Ministry of Health. Additionally, this Award acknowledges the importance of cardiovascular research: the impact of cardiovascular diseases to fellow Malaysians and the need to improve the understanding and treatment of this debilitating disease. Combating cardiovascular diseases should be made a priority, not only for researchers, clinicians, and medical teams but also the public. I hope that the findings of this research through the attachment and the study I am currently working on will shed a better light at understanding cardiovascular diseases in the Malaysian context.

Having won this award, you will be seen as someone to be looked up upon. What is your motto in life and what would your advice be for the young generation today?
The biggest limitation one could have is you yourself. No matter what you want to do, believe in yourself and work hard to achieve what you are passionate about. Whatever your dream may be, it is your passion that will drive you through the challenges. Acknowledge and appreciate those supporting around you as they are the key pillars in your life.

In 2014, an IMU Postgraduate Alumnus, Dr Kamalan Jeevaratnam, was the recipient of the same award. Read more about this at IMU Postgraduate Alumnus is Recipient of the 2014 Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment. Related article:

#HCPsofMY: Featuring Dr Sophia Rasheeqa Ismail

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