Professor (Victor) Dzau, Vice President (Ian) Holliday, colleagues, graduands, parents, fellow alumni, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
If the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries represented the Age of Reason in Europe, then ours must be the Age of Anger, a term coined by Indian thinker Pankaj Mishra. Looking back to the future then, we would be wise to take a leaf out of the Enlightenment to mitigate the worst of our present collective unreasoned wrath, against each other and with ourselves. So what did the French philosophes, Scottish thinkers, Georgian intellectuals and Weimar classicists do? Amongst other deeds, they established learned academies and bolstered universities.
At this 200th Congregation, it is most fitting then that we welcome back one of our own honorary graduates from the 195th Congregation President Victor Dzau of the US National Academy of Medicine, which is one of three academies that make up the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the United States. And just at the present juncture of the tensest relationship between the world’s two largest economies in decades, set against the broader geopolitical canvas of nationalism, populism and even tribalism rearing their fearsome heads, it is apropos that academia and the scientific community doubly reinforce our non-partisan links. Whom better to rebuild the “Chimerica” bridge than Victor who personifies the essence of both of these great countries? He was born in Shanghai, completed primary and secondary education in Hong Kong, read medicine in Canada, and subsequently took the chairs of medicine at both Stanford and Harvard, then the entire medical enterprise at Duke which during his time spread its wings to Singapore and now serves at the pinnacle institution of medical and health thought leadership in the world. For those of you who are probably thinking that Victor is too much of a living deity to relate to, in fact, he remains very much grounded in the academic trenches studying miRNA-based strategies for myocardial protection and regeneration that are supported by multiple NIH R01 grants to this day.
To call Victor a bridge builder is no mere polite cliché. Through his personal intervention, buttressed by the generosity of HKU Council member and Convocation Chairman Dr Patrick Poon, we will be co-hosting the first NAM-HKU fellow in global health leadership who will be spending two years reading for a HKU MPH degree and interning at the National Academy of Medicine in Washington, DC. Over time this cohort of young Asian leaders will form the professional lattice of mutual understanding for the betterment of both our countries.
The Faculty’s Centre of Genomic Sciences (CGS) was initially established as the Genome Research Centre more than a decade and a half ago. Since those early and heady days which witnessed our direct contribution to 2% of the globally collaborative human haplotype mapping project and the critical role in sequencing the SARS coronavirus for global epidemic control, CGS has grown from strength to strength in carving out our niche in tailoring services from sample handling to bioinformatics interpretation. More recently, with generous funding support by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and the Hongkong Bank Foundation, it has built new single-cell sequencing platforms, boosted capabilities in proteomics and metabolomics, established a multidisciplinary biobank, and expanded its bioinformatics consultancy and original research capabilities. Over the next few years, we will be doubling down and continuing to invest heavily in state-of-the-science equipment acquisition and proactive faculty and staff recruitment. CGS will become the Centre for PanorOmic Sciences or CPOS in short. It will take a panoromic approach to understanding health and disease, from “pre-womb to tomb” as per Eric Topol’s conception of precision medicine. One of CPOS’s major axes of work will concern a multi-omics approach to understanding and treating cancer at the HKU-Jockey Club Centre for Clinical Innovation and Discovery at the soon-to-be-redeveloped Grantham Hospital.
In parallel, the Chief Executive, our Chancellor, has renewed her call for a Big Data Analytics Platform at the Hospital Authority (HA) which holds valuable health and health care phenotypic and laboratory information on essentially the whole population. HA in turn will implement a small pilot programme, called “HA Data Collaboration Laboratory”, beginning next calendar year. While we welcome such a move, it needs to be much bolder in scale and scope to be commensurate with Government’s innovation and technology aspirations. The window for Hong Kong to leverage this unique resource is fast closing. The rest of the world will not wait. Judicious prudence is right, but bureaucratic inertia and an unnecessarily timid mindset are inconsistent with the national vision of the Greater Bay Area innovation and technology hub or the Chief Executive’s policy directive.
On the other hand, the impending headlong plunge into Hong Kong’s own version of Genomics England called the “Hong Kong Genome Project” deserves greater scrutiny. In particular, the ownership and governance structure, business model and relationships with local scientists and academics require better communication so that a 360-win consensus may truly emerge, lest we relearn the lessons of our UK counterpart. Singapore is similarly going through much the same thinking process and has been advised to pay greater attention to these very areas by their own overseas high-level experts.
With the official promulgation of Government’s Health@InnoHK application guidelines last month, we are finalising our first batch of submissions focusing on our core strengths of emerging infectious diseases, cancer, and stem cell biology. Indeed the Chief Executive declared that the signing of our collaborative agreement with Institut Pasteur for Health@InnoHK was the highlight of her European duty visit this summer. Each of the supported hubs, comprising leading international institutions and local partners, will receive about HKD400M over five years and be allocated laboratory space at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP) to push the frontiers of medical science.
We are also partnering with Science Park to develop Hong Kong’s first stem cell GMP labs. While a more substantial facility will become a central platform at HKSTP eventually, we have already begun works commissioning our own lab on Sassoon Road that can produce advanced therapeutic agents for clinical trials, pioneer different forms of cell-based therapies and train the next generation of technical experts for Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area.
Finally, I am pleased to report that two excellent labs to study infectious pathogens, namely the new Block T Biosafety Level 3 facility in Queen Mary Hospital and the Shantou University-HKU Joint Institute of Virology in Shantou, commenced operations during the summer.
We are a university, not a technical institute. And to doctor is to teach. Therefore we put huge emphasis on whom, what and how we educate. Let me start with the first “w” – whom. One of the very first things I did when I became dean was to look at this question. In fact I had been increasingly concerned by the potentially more sluggish upward mobility afforded by higher education. Medicine being the most desirable programme bears an outsized responsibility to do right by the less privileged students in society, while producing doctors of the highest calibre. We therefore launched the Springboard scholarship scheme and undertook to reserve at least 75% of available places to those from the JUPAS track or more precisely students who have completed the local diploma of secondary education or DSE. Disappointingly no other degree course had done this in the past nor followed our lead. We had been highly successful year after year since in capturing the best students and admitting 70-plus percent of DSE candidates, until this summer.
We were only able to fill half of the 235 places with JUPAS applicants, although reassuringly we continued to admit those with superlative grades that are two “stars” higher than our sister programme over the other side of the Lion Rock. We, rather I was pilloried in the media for apparently having gone back on my word. I chose to stay silent while the storm in a teacup whirled. My job as dean is to protect the academic environment from political headwinds.
The truth was that we had actually offered more than 80% of the total available places to JUPAS candidates. Why would any aspiring student not take up an offer from one of the top three medical schools in Asia? The reasons I surmise are two-fold. For students on the borderline of the admission threshold, they would rather opt for the security of an alternative offer by ranking it first than risk putting MBBS as the top preference, with the attendant uncertainty of the JUPAS computer algorithm should they go unmatched in their A1 choice. This is of course entirely rational behaviour. On the other hand, for high, but not the top, scorers on the other end of the spectrum, with the expanded “flexibility” of a second rebranded course from our sister institution, a full year of study could be waived. Thus it comes down to choosing between a five- vs six-year degree course, both of which lead to the same license to practise medicine, albeit we strongly believe via quite different experiential routes. Our sister school’s special programme was supposed to have been a very “elite” offering reserved for a small number of high scorers that is now admitting one-fifth of their entire freshman cohort. Quite how the oversight authorities, including the Education Bureau, Medical Council of Hong Kong and the University Grants Committee apparently acquiesce to this is difficult to fathom.
Despite, actually because of, this manifestly unlevel playing field, we plough on and are motivated to do even better for our students. I am pleased to report that the first ever enrichment year has gone off to a great start this September. Rather than rhyming off statistics, let me play you a short clip comprising student narrators vlogging what and how they have been doing so far. I cannot be more enthusiastic or proud of what they are achieving and am certain that in time they will bring to the profession fresh, value-added perspectives from the education they are receiving at HKU. One must be doing something right when one’s competitor now brands its “optional” year as a “personalised enrichment year” – imitation is indeed the best form of flattery.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are bearing witness to the transformation of the medical profession because of the universal enrichment we are affording all our students as we began renewing our curriculum on our 130th anniversary. We are socially minded elites of the 21st century. Privilege should not continue accruing to those who have always benefitted from clubby institutional arrangements. Any talk of “brotherhood” or “sisterhood” based on high school ties is at best anachronistic and potentially discriminatory. That recipe has led to the Age of Anger. The tide of history will wash away those who still cling onto such notions. We require our students to be open to each other and to the world around them. In turn we reward them with unprecedented opportunities to grow and excel. This is what a HKU education is about, starting right where the University itself began life, in Medicine.
On the MBBS curriculum, we just completed another quinquennial accreditation by the Medical Council last month. I look forward to reporting the panel’s findings when they become available next year.
Meantime, we are making a renewed effort to decongest the curriculum – a Sisyphean task that has plagued the best schools the world over given the exponential explosion of new knowledge and additional competencies that are demanded of doctors. There are no sacred cows because we need to make room for new, necessary topics such as a panoromic approach to understanding health, illness and disease, and how big data and artificial intelligence will fundamentally change medical practice.
We are also taking a hard look at assessment, which is all the more important given that our students are not required to sit public qualifying examinations for licensure. More specifically, every question will be robustly mapped to pre-defined learning outcomes that are tagged to each learning activity. Students will be debriefed within one month of every major exam and a personalised report indicating satisfactory achievement or lacunae in different competencies will be issued so as to guide remediation and further learning.
A third and final plank of our teaching and learning reform is to make the curriculum truly student-centred, beyond the usual rhetoric. I have tasked the T&L deanery with fully staffing the learners’ wellbeing team, redeploying and retraining all staff whose daily function is to serve the student body in various ways, as well as counselling and if necessary disciplining even the most senior professors should they put their needs above those of our charge. Not only is this good pedagogy; it is consistent with our Confucian and Hippocratic heritage. Medicine is after all a lifelong apprenticeship where the adage “do one, see one, teach one” still holds. What we do to our students today they will pattern after when they become leaders of the profession. We must allow them to begin their professional careers learning the right habits and feeling cared for and nurtured.
This is however not carte blanche for students to do whatever they wish. Part of becoming a responsible adult professional is to learn how to behave appropriately, particularly when there is disagreement or in controversial situations. Ask any student who has attended the “Meet the Dean” sessions usually held at the beginning of each academic year and you will know that I care deeply about constantly improving their learning experience, from sorting out water fountains to battling university bureaucracy in course requirements; but I do not mince words when unreasonable requests are pitched in an inappropriately confrontational way.
I have gone into considerable detail about current priorities for the medical course. Rest assured that I have not forgotten about our other undergraduate programmes in biomedical sciences, Chinese medicine, nursing, pharmacy and the upcoming new addition of global health and development. MBBS, being our longest established flagship, has and will always set the bar for the other degrees to learn from, not only its successes but perhaps even more importantly its hard lessons in failure. In fact all these programmes are linked together through a Faculty-wide initiative in inter-professional education where students from the various disciplines take the same lectures and engage in small group peer learning together. They will need to work together on the wards soon enough so why not start during their student years?
HKU Health System has now firmly established itself as the overarching governance platform for relations with our four affiliate teaching hospitals. Professor Joseph Lui who has directed its operations since its foundation now oversees the entire clinical affairs deanery, thereby personifying one-stop service in our integrated approach to engaging with clinical staff, health care organisations and patients.
Allow me to take this opportunity to welcome Dr Teresa Li who has taken over from Dr CC Luk as Cluster Chief Executive for Hong Kong West and Hospital Chief Executive for Queen Mary Hospital. Her current move is indeed a homecoming for Teresa, who had spent a brief period working as an anaesthetist in our flagship hospital earlier in her career.
We are actively contributing to the next iteration of Hong Kong West’s Clinical Services Plan, with a particular view to facilitating student teaching and learning especially given the increasingly larger numbers involved. Related to this, we are engaging with the Hospital Authority about the possibility of designating more teaching hospitals to accommodate this burgeoning need for clinical placement of medical and nursing students in the years to come.
With the generous support of the Li Ka Shing Foundation, our eponymous donor, we will be launching the “Love Can Help” patient sponsorship scheme targeting those with uncommon conditions requiring ultra expensive therapies that can bring about catastrophic expenses even amongst the relatively well-to-do. This non-means tested pilot scheme is funded by a HKD17.5M donation in the first instance and will be rolled out at Queen Mary Hospital during the first quarter of 2019.
Following Council’s resolution last December, HKU Health System has been given full authority for internal governance and control of the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital project. We have regular liaison meetings with the Hospital Chief Executive Professor CM Lo and his senior managers to sort financial and human resources issues as well as ensuring fiduciary compliance and above all unity of purpose. On the horizon, we are proactively exploring new opportunities arising from the strong and sustained support of the Greater Bay Area vision by the Central People’s Government, Hong Kong government and those at the provincial and local municipality levels.
At Gleneagles Hong Kong (GHK), HKU Health System has been adding most value by pioneering the most robust clinical governance framework in the local private sector, that ranges from systematic privileges vetting and credentialing of individual practitioners to institution-level accreditation. After only 18 months in operation, GHK has already successfully completed the diagnostic readiness survey for ACHS accreditation, with the full organisation-wide survey for award of accreditation planned for the coming calendar year. Several specialties have been pioneering undergraduate teaching modules that best fit the private care environment and students’ learning needs. Hong Kong College of Anaesthesiologists became the first specialty college to recognise GHK as a satellite training site. There are a couple of other specialties that are undergoing evaluation currently.
To prepare for the commissioning of Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital’s A Kung Ngam private cancer care facility, in addition to our own publicly operated academic cancer centre at Grantham Hospital, our clinical oncologists and cancer researchers have never had so many opportunities to prevent and treat the number one cause of death. Our overriding challenge is in filling capacity to treat patients, teach students, train residents and test new therapies – in a nutshell, to find sufficient numbers of qualified professoriate and professional staff to do all that we must.
Finally, let me just quickly mention a couple of other hospital partners with whom we have been working during the current pre-commissioning phase, that is the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital and the Chinese Medicine Hospital. We will continue supporting these long-awaited specialty hospitals as they come on stream over the next few years.
This Congregation marks the beginning of my second term of office. With much good will and support of the professoriate, I was able to implement a healthy turnover of the deanery leadership team. Let me take this opportunity to thank Professors CS Lau, Law Wai-lun and Anskar Leung for their dedicated service during the past five years, and welcome their successors Professors Gilberto Leung, Joseph Lui and WK Leung joining as associate deans holding the respective portfolios of teaching and learning, clinical affairs and human capital. I also thank all retiring assistant deans of the various sub-deaneries whose work behind the scenes has kept the Faculty humming along smoothly, especially through our 130th anniversary.
We took particular care to appoint the current cohort of assistant deans, which was part of a deliberate effort in grooming the next generation of academic leaders. We have also put in place a systematic rotation programme to allow these younger colleagues full exposure to the various deanery functions over the next few years.
Given the burgeoning size and scope of the Faculty, and the anticipated expansion on all fronts in the coming few years, we have just concluded a global search for a newly established full-time Executive Associate Deanship (EAD) in Strategy and Operations, as approved by the University’s Senior Management Team. The EAD will provide strategic leadership and administrative oversight for budget and finance, resources management, information technology and other support services. The incumbent will also be responsible for optimising the Faculty’s operational efficiency in the increasingly competitive higher education environment nationally and internationally, in tandem with the University’s SMARTER initiative.
At the School level, we have recently completed a worldwide search for the inaugural director of the School of Biomedical Sciences. As some of you will remember, this exercise has taken much longer than we had anticipated or wished. As the Chinese saying goes, 好事多磨or paraphrasing the English idiom “good people come to those who wait”, we are now completing the appointment procedure for a superb candidate.
It is even more pleasing that both the incoming EAD and SBMS Director are members of the fairer sex, extending the Faculty’s proud tradition of having excellent women leaders. I am looking forward to welcoming them in the first half of the coming year.
As new members of the Faculty leadership are about to join the team, we will be bidding farewell to Professor Lao Lixing who directs the School of Chinese Medicine. Lixing will be retiring back to America to join his family with our best wishes come next October. Therefore, there is now a global search for his successor.
In the coming year at the programmatic level, the human capital and clinical affairs deaneries will be jointly working on establishing a Clinical Academic Career Office to specifically nurture and serve the next generation of young clinician-scientists. The programme will focus on appropriate mentorship, career development on national and international platforms, more competitive terms and conditions of service relative to the Hospital Authority as well as overseas counterparts, and robust but fair tenure and promotion policy and procedures.
Further upstream, while we have now generally refrained from hiring new clinical trainees into the professoriate until after they have completed specialty training, in order to give as wide an exposure as possible to HA trainees considering an academic career, we would nonetheless offer a year-long Academic Clinical Fellowship scheme for those who show outstanding promise for a clinician-scientist career during their specialty training.
Over the past decade, the number of first-year-first-degree (FYFD) MBBS places has expanded by almost 90%. For the next two triennia, there will be further increases in our annual intake to both the medical and nursing programmes. Government has also indicated that we should plan for continued expansion up to the 2031-34 triennium. Accordingly, we have initiated the Sassoon Road campus redevelopment master plan to accommodate the consequential teaching and research needs.
For those of you who live around the medical campus or have visited recently, you will see that protective scaffolding has gone up at 3 Sassoon Road for the demolition of the old Hospital Authority laundry, making way for the new home of the School of Nursing and School of Chinese Medicine. Starting next week, colleagues who drive to work will find the number of parking spaces markedly reduced at 21 Sassoon Road as construction workers begin the New Annex project. Both projects are slated for completion by the end of 2022 and ready for use in the first half of 2023.
Further, following a site visit by the Financial Secretary and the Secretary for Food and Health this summer, we were invited to submit a capital works programme for consideration. We understand that it has been endorsed subject to funding approval by the legislature. Specifically, dealing with the impending influx of more students and therefore staff in the immediate to short term, we plan to remodel existing space in the Faculty of Medicine Building at 21 Sassoon Road, in addition to the New Annex project; and to implement pervasive virtual and artificial reality-enabled information technology across the various teaching venues on Sassoon Road and at Queen Mary Hospital. Then in the medium term, we are looking to construct a Clinical Training Amenities Centre at 6 Sassoon Road that would provide a total of 700 residential places and a learning commons to cater for medical and nursing students undergoing bedside training at Queen Mary, as well as a new Academic Building next to the new School of Nursing at 3 Sassoon Road.
We are drawing up longer term plans to redevelop the rest of Sassoon Road to complete the medical campus transformation envisioned on our 130th anniversary. Hopefully by our 140th birthday, most of these capital projects would have borne fruit and become operational. In the meantime however, those of us working on Sassoon Road will have to live in a semi-permanent construction zone for the coming decade. Borrowing from an old MTR advert: “唔好意思，阻住你返工、返學！”
Next year marks a decade since the national deepening health system reform was launched in 2009. In 2012, the Ministries of Education and Health (now the National Health Commission) jointly promulgated a plan to standardise medical training under a new “5+3” framework that has been subsequently implemented nationwide since 2015. President Xi Jinping in a landmark speech articulated the Healthy China 2030 vision in 2016, setting out our country’s strategic position vis-à-vis the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and specifically the ideal of universal health coverage that the World Health Organisation has been advocating.
One should of course view these recent national developments in the health sector against the broader geopolitical background of the Belt and Road Initiative launched in 2013, and the reconceptualization of our regional development strategy as the Greater Bay Area since 2017.
HKUMed has been deeply engaging and reengaging with the mainland, and picked up our pace and intensity given this exciting array of new developments. Let me report to you several examples.
As one of nine members of the China Consortium of Elite Teaching Hospitals, HKU has played to Hong Kong’s firmly established strength in bridging between the West and the rest of the country. The mainland has often looked to America adapting many of its residency educational practices, which makes our British heritage particularly valuable because it gives a counterpoint. In fact, I just returned from leading a delegation of the Consortium to London that was eye-opening for representatives of these top institutions. On the fortieth anniversary of the country’s “reform and opening up” in which Hong Kong was formally acknowledged to have played a leading role by President Xi last month, HKUMed continues to lead from the front in the health and education sectors.
On the topic of residency training, in a couple of weeks at HKU-Shenzhen Hospital, we will be co-organising a national train-the-trainer workshop for 450 national residency programme directors. This is the first, hopefully of many, such activities that are jointly presented with and in fact hosted by the Chinese Medical Doctor Association (中國醫師協會), which is the official body delegated to lead the national “5+3” reform.
Upstream at the undergraduate education level, we are contributing to the national “poverty alleviation through health” (健康扶貧) effort. The latest example is a pioneering peer-to-peer co-learning experience between our students and those from Peking Union Medical College (北京協和醫學院). Together we launched the first Mainland Healthcare Field Study and Poverty Alleviation Programme in rural Shanxi (山西) between the two top medical schools in the country. We will be scaling this up in the coming summer, with the support of the National Health Commission.
On the research front, I see enormous scope and potential for President Zhang Xiang’s vision of developing a national-level laboratory, which is in essence a major research institute with thousands of scientists from different cognate disciplines working together to crack the most difficult questions at the frontiers of knowledge. This would be a natural product of the Greater Bay Area innovation and technology hub idea. HKUMed is proactively contributing to this collective effort. I hope to be able to report progress soonest as we march forward. Watch this space!
Finally, congregation ceremonies are really about celebrating success. Much as I dislike international league tables and find them counter-productive at best and often misleading, I would be lying to you if I tell you that I pay it no attention. At the risk of succumbing to my own all too human frailty, let me report to you the happy news that according to the most recent Times Higher Education Supplement ranking of medical schools, formally the “clinical, pre-clinical and health” category, HKUMed is now the number two school in all of Asia and came 29th in the world, having surpassed the University of Tokyo and coming just after the National University of Singapore.
At the individual level, our colleagues have continued to excel and their achievements have been duly recognised. There are as usual too many to enumerate here and instead I will refer you to the printed proceedings for details. I feel extremely fortunate to be working alongside such brilliant people every day.
But I am actually most proud of those of you who will be filing past in a moment, our graduands. Your careers are only just beginning and may your future be even more exciting, fulfilling and successful than those of us sitting on stage applauding your graduation today. Borrowing from Maya Angelou’s inspirational verse from Still I Rise, let us recall your sweat and tears reading for your degree, and set our sights on the promised fulfilment as a health care professional:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and applaud the Class of 2018!
2017-8 Honour Roll
Professional Recognition and Honours/Awards (Teams)
Professional Recognition and Honours/Awards (Individuals)
Major Research Support