Secretary, Provost, Professor Rosie Young, fellow former deans, chief executives of our teaching hospital partners, president of our medical alumni association, parents, colleagues, and above all graduands, ladies and gentlemen,
PEOPLE FIRST: Protecting HKUMed’s Most Valuable Asset
The Faculty has had a dynamic year, filled with important milestones and achievements. We celebrated our 135th anniversary with staff, students, alumni and community stakeholders, the 10th anniversary of the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital, the 100th anniversary of the Department of Medicine and the 25th anniversary of the School of Chinese Medicine. These events all provided opportunities to assert our vision and values.
HKUMed puts people at the heart of our work, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, we embrace technological progress, and we are committed to continually reviewing and renewing ourselves. Our success has been endorsed in two other major milestones this year: we were named the Number One medical school in the city in both the Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, and 13th best in the world, our highest ever, by Times Higher Education. Moreover, we received glowing feedback in the third Academic Review of our Faculty by a distinguished Panel of scholars.
The Academic Review was especially significant because the Panel took a deep dive into what we have been doing since our last review in 2016. The Panel members were highly impressed by our progress, including our state-of-the-art core facilities and technology platforms, our performance in the Research Assessment Exercise 2020, our establishment of the InnoHK centres and so on. They also confirmed that we are excelling at a very high level internationally, despite the unprecedented demands we faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they made recommendations that align very much with what we are already doing. This was a timely reflection for me personally, coming just a few months after I took up the Deanship. It was also a wonderful endorsement of everyone in the Faculty and beyond, who have helped us to succeed – my predecessor Gabriel Leung, who laid the groundwork that has enabled us to go the distance; the University and the Hong Kong community through their unfailing support; and, especially, our staff and students who have shed blood, sweat and tears on the road to excellence.
The Panel’s recommendations are worth some elaboration. While nearly half relate to University-level policies, the majority are focused on how HKUMed can strengthen and transform its performance and impact. Among other things, the Panel recommended we develop our existing Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy into a School, foster cross-disciplinary research work, adopt a Team Science approach in appraising staff’s work, further align students’ training with the career opportunities emerging from new government policy directives, explore more opportunities for translating discoveries into diagnostics and therapeutics, and continuously strengthen core facilities and technology platforms. We have made progress in all these areas and the Panel’s recognition will spur us to advance this work much further.
But there is one overarching challenge highlighted by the Panel that we absolutely must address if we are to go forward, and that is, people. We urgently need to bolster our human capital, not only in terms of numbers but in how we look after our people, because our future lies in their hands.
We cannot hope to sustain and grow our ambitions if we do not retain our talent and attract more high-calibre people. These things are easier said than done. We face many hurdles, including heavy workloads for clinical professoriate staff, the University’s mandatory retirement age of 60, growing talent competition with the Hospital Authority and private sector, and the city’s brain drain, for starters. There are also challenges in attracting top students due to increasing competition not only from across the harbour but also abroad, now that the government recognises certain non-local qualifications.
Our top priority is to address these obstacles and send this strong message to current and future members of the Faculty: HKUMed puts people first and we take care of our people, both professionally and personally.
PEOPLE FIRST: Our Human Capital
The Review Panel highlighted an important and urgent priority, which is to strengthen staff well-being. We have many excellent scholars and support staff who have done a stupendous job during the challenges of the past few years. But in some ways, that is the problem. Meeting the increasing demands has led to burnout, low morale and other issues among some staff members. My team and I are therefore taking steps to make daily life a little easier for both professoriate and non-professoriate staff, an effort that started with my Townhall meetings back in the autumn of 2022 to sound out people’s needs and aspirations.
Those meetings highlighted a few issues. One was the need for practical support to promote wellness. We have responded by rolling out a series of People First initiatives that include a shuttle bus service to the MTR, exercise and fitness classes, mental health counselling and therapy support, staff talks and activities, and Staff Common Rooms (SCRs). One of the SCRs is going to be located in the Alumni Chamber and I thank alumni for allowing us to repurpose this venue. You are always welcome to join us there!
Staff also want more opportunities to mingle and connect with each other informally. We held a happy hour event for staff of the School of Clinical Medicine, and a separate gathering in June for the five non-clinical Schools and Department, and the good feedback we received has spurred us to keep organising gatherings and research mixers in future. At the leadership level, we also piloted a series of mini-retreats for our Heads and Chairpersons of Departments and Schools this spring to foster collaborative synergy between clinicians and basic scientists.
In all these endeavours, the Faculty’s aim is to enhance connectivity among our people at all levels and respond to them. But we are also acutely aware that terms and conditions for staff could be improved. Many staff juggle multiple roles as teacher, researcher and clinician. I am pleased to report that we are making progress in this regard, too.
After articulating concerns and proposing a suite of solutions to the University’s Senior Management Team, we welcomed a visit by the Provost and Vice-President (Academic Development) in April, who hosted a Townhall meeting with clinical professoriate staff. They brought encouraging news, promising that performance in clinical research and service will be given due consideration in personnel assessment by the University Selection and Promotion Committee. The University will also take into account all relevant factors in supporting reappointment applications by Clinical Chair Professors and Clinical Professors to remain on staff up to age 70 and 65, respectively.
My team and I are also doing what we can to improve working terms for staff of all levels. First, we have devised clearer career pathways and discipline-specific appointment and promotion criteria for both academic and practice-track colleagues, and we are exploring the feasibility of having Professors of Practice in other health professions including Chinese Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health. Second, we are moving full speed ahead to nurture our in-house talents through the Early Academic Career Development Mentoring Scheme, which is now in its third year, and our clinical fellowship scheme, which has been scaled up so clinicians can gain international experience and acquire new skills. Third, joint appointments across departments and disciplines will be pursued to enrich people’s work and career opportunities. Fourth, we are seeking to improve conditions for technical staff – the Directors of our core facilities, such as the Centre for PanorOmic Sciences and Centre for Comparative Medicine Research, have been invited to nominate suitable technical staff for transfer to substantive terms. And finally, we are exploring ways to do more for research support staff.
All of these measures should address some of the pressing concerns for existing staff, but ultimately, we need more people on board to contribute to our exciting work as we move forward. We are reaching out in all directions to achieve that, especially now that pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
The ‘140 for 140’ global recruitment campaign has resumed in earnest to attract top talent to our Faculty. This has been helped by the University’s support for our proposal to earmark a very generous HK$500 million donation from Dr Daniel Yu and Mrs Mayce Yu for a host of medical development initiatives, including global recruitment and clinical research. So far, we have had roadshows to several key overseas cities, including Orlando, Melbourne, Sydney, and London. The turnout has been encouraging. For instance, in Australia, we met with everyone from specialists, nurses and pharmacists to academics, scientists and students. We also aroused the interest of many potential recruits, who told us how impressed they were with our physical campus development and many achievements. The trip was also a great opportunity to reconnect with HKUMed alumni and former staff.
Our recruitment efforts are starting to bear fruit. Recently, we welcomed two outstanding international scholars to HKUMed, medical oncologist Professor Rina Hui Yee-man, who joins us from the University of Sydney as the Director of the new Centre of Cancer Medicine, and Professor David Makram Bishai, who joins us from Johns Hopkins as the new Director of the School of Public Health. We are on the verge of recruiting a world-renowned neuroscientist to head the School of Biomedical Sciences, and a top-notch pharmacologist to head the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, as well as experts in drug discovery and delivery, integrative medicine and nanotechnology. The latter arrivals will help strengthen our preparations to transform the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy into a School.
Other avenues are also being explored to bolster staff numbers. Next week, the Secretary for Health will lead a delegation to our campus and we intend to propose initiatives to him to strengthen our clinical and healthcare professoriate so that we can better contribute to healthcare development in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area (GBA). In parallel, I will also be engaging with the Hospital Authority and our teaching hospital partners to explore possible manpower deployment models.
PEOPLE FIRST: Our Students
An education at HKUMed remains highly regarded among students, as we saw in a recent focus group exercise that identified our strong international exposure and connections, our heritage and prestige, our alumni network, and our professionalism as key attractions for enrolling here. I would like to add one thing to that list. The Faculty puts students and their well-being at the centre of every educational programme we provide. Yes, we have high standards, but we also offer strong support for students.This point is sometimes missed when potential students and their parents look at HKUMed. The chatter is about our high standards and not our heart. We have therefore launched a campaign to better understand their perceptions and promote the ways in which we support and prioritise our students’ well-being.
This manifests in multiple ways. On any given day, you are likely to see individual academic staff sitting down to lunch with their students to offer guidance or simply collegiality. Faculty-level support includes a wide range of well-being programmes and counselling and academic advisory services for students across all seven undergraduate teaching programmes. We also take well-being seriously within our curricula. The medical humanities and ethics curriculum was introduced 10 years ago to explore the human side of medicine from not only the patient’s perspective but also that of the doctor, who bears the heavy responsibility of treating and alleviating suffering. I spoke on this topic in May at the first L.C. Chan Memorial Lecture in Medical Humanities, as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations. I feel this curriculum is now more important than ever. Students face many upheavals due to rapid technological progress and societal change, but the need to be humble and focus on the people in our care will endure. This year we also included a new Doctors in Society module in the Medical Humanities Curriculum to reinforce the teaching of professionalism in the context of socio-political changes and social responsibility. And we launched the Assistant Internship to better prepare senior medical students to serve patients.
Our Enrichment programmes also acknowledge that all students need to grow not only as trained professionals, but as individuals. The Enrichment Year in the MBBS is popular among third-year students, who spend a whole year focusing on personal or professional development goals before the clinical years kick in. Our students have used that time to pursue research, do service work, study a different subject in Mainland China or overseas, or even get another degree. In the past five years, including during COVID-19, a total of 571 MBBS students took full-year intercalation activities and from that, 374 earned additional degrees. Enrichment blocks have now been extended to other programmes. This year, the first cohort of Nursing students embarked on exchanges or voluntary programmes in the Life Enrichment Learning programme with very positive feedback, while fourth-year BPharm students completed an enrichment module where they partnered with charities and non-profits to provide services to vulnerable communities.
To further cater to individual student needs, we are also launching a new study track under the MBBS programme, called the MBBS (Distinguished MedScholar). Starting from the 2023 intake, outstanding students will have the option to undertake intensive research training through MRes[Med] studies at HKU and work towards a PhD on scholarships offered by the Faculty, or, have flexibility in regards to the Enrichment Year.
Our ongoing efforts to incorporate new technology in our curricula is also benefiting students by ensuring their training is at the forefront of medicine. The new Technology-Enriched Learning Mezzanine, or Techmezz, opened this year and features advanced interactive tools such as VR headsets and two Anatomage dissection tables. State-of-the-art simulation labs and wards have been introduced in both medicine and nursing, and clinical year MBBS students have each been provided with point-of-care ultrasound devices. At the curriculum level, health technology and biomedicine are gaining importance in all programmes and we see potential to develop new undergraduate majors and minors along these themes. The need for more healthcare entrepreneurs is also on the rise and the BBiomedSc programme has jumped into the fold with the new Innovation Team Project, an alternative capstone that takes students through the process of setting up biomedical technology-based start-ups – something we hope to see more of given the high-level government support for developing Hong Kong and the GBA into an innovation hub.
In fact, our teaching horizons over the past few years have increasingly sought to deepen our students’ engagement with the GBA and the wider world. The pandemic disrupted that, but with restrictions now lifted, we have been able to resume MBBS teaching at the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital. We have also renamed the public health component of the MBBS as Global Health to acknowledge the inclusion of global health issues including those related to the GBA.
Hong Kong, though, remains our home base and we continue to adapt our teaching to respond to healthcare developments here. Recently, we took steps to support two major new government initiatives, the Primary Healthcare Blueprint to restructure and elevate the role of primary care in Hong Kong’s health system, and the Hospital Authority’s pilot programme to integrate Chinese and Western medicine, ahead of the opening of Hong Kong’s first Chinese medicine hospital in 2025. To support primary care, we are enhancing our longstanding teaching of general practice and family medicine modules across various undergraduate curricula. To promote integrative medicine, we are developing a new curriculum thread that will integrate Chinese medicine teaching into the MBBS from first year through to the clinical years.
Our progress across all these fronts will hopefully earn high commendation from the Medical Council of Hong Kong when they visit us in September for a re-accreditation exercise. We are primed to deliver clear information and messages about the strengths of our programmes, on the back of our success with the Academic Review and the reaccreditation of the BPharm programme by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board in March. I welcome the coming visit because it will offer a fresh set of eyes on our progress. I hope to report positive feedback, as well as recommendations for growth, when the exercise is completed.
PEOPLE FIRST: Better Care for Patients
While our first task is to provide trained professionals to meet Hong Kong’s evolving healthcare needs, equally, we want our research to benefit the greatest number of people and contribute to the region’s development as a global innovation hub. We have world-class expertise in our Faculty so our focus moving forward will be to translate their findings into new applications, and broaden our range of strengths and advantages.
The Academic Review Panel was highly impressed by the quality of our research output in stem cell, immunology, infectious diseases and cancer. But it also rightly encouraged us to bolster our expertise in emerging areas that have potential for success, such as biomedical engineering, neuroscience, personalised medicine, big data, and integrative medicine. I have held discussions on this with senior staff and we fully agree with the Panel. In fact, we have put forward a proposal to boost recruitment in six key areas that we believe are brimming with potential for innovative solutions and better healthcare for patients.
These areas are, one, cancer medicine, where we want to heighten research impact in precision medicine, antibody drug conjugates, immune-oncology and liquid biopsy; two, a Centre for Integrative Medicine that will work with the Clinical Trials Centre and various departments to produce innovative research, including a stream relating to Chinese medicine; three, primary care, which I will touch on in a moment; four, neuroscience, which is a fast-developing field of importance; plus two areas that build on our existing strengths. One is regenerative and stem cell medicine, in which two of our InnoHK centres are playing a leading role. The other is One Health, which will build on our global leadership in emerging pathogens to include prediction, animal health and food systems. We have already started to identify and recruit scholars in all these areas, as well as data science which will be a major component in almost all our work going forward.
Good quality research also needs advanced facilities and we are making headway here, too. A forthcoming data science core will be established alongside our existing facilities, which were universally praised by staff during the Academic Review. Those facilities have been augmented this year with the opening of the HKUMed Laboratory of Cellular Therapeutics in May, the first of its kind in Hong Kong to attain GMP compliance and be licensed in principle by the Department of Health; and the Li Ka Shing Cryo-EM Laboratory, which will open in the autumn. The latter has been a technically challenging project, almost three years in the planning, and it will enable us to perform structural analysis of drug targets to support drug design and the development of new therapeutics. I also wish to highlight the Centre for Comparative Medicine Research, which was re-accredited last year by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and received the highest classification of ‘Exemplary’ for its laboratory animal care and use.
These laboratory facilities are magnificent research assets, but we also want to strengthen our ability to translate research into medicine. We are collaborating with the Faculties of Dentistry and Engineering to establish a Biomedical Engineering Hub for Translational Medicine to accelerate research development in this emerging area. And we will soon establish a Technology Transfer Core to foster research innovation and translation, promote commercialisation opportunities, and cultivate an entrepreneurial culture among academics. Professional staff are being recruited to support these activities and help us deepen our partnerships with biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Our InnoHK centres will also doubtless play a central role in translational research, as will the School of Clinical Medicine, which is working with the Clinical Trials Centre and other departments to translate biomedical research into clinical practice and commercial products.
One other increasingly important collaborator in translational research is the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital. The hospital celebrated its 10th anniversary last year after a remarkable decade: National 3A Hospital Accreditation, National Standardised Resident Training Base, Teaching Hospital for General Medical Colleges in Guangdong Province, and lead in more than 300 nationally-funded research programmes, among other achievements. HKU has signed a second 10-year collaborative agreement with the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government to continue to provide first-class clinical service, education and administration at the hospital to support its aspirations to ever-higher standards. In addition – and this relates to our research – the hospital will act as an innovative research platform and incubation centre. It will provide Phase 1, 2 and 3 clinical trials and connect with industry to help translate innovations into applications. This will allow us to expand our research opportunities and contribute to the development of healthcare and biomedicine in the GBA in the coming decade.
Of course, we also want to contribute to the development of healthcare within Hong Kong. A major event this year has been the government’s blueprint for providing more and better primary care. This has not only prompted a rethink of our curricula but inspired the launch of the HKU Primary Healthcare Initiative in our Faculty to conduct multidisciplinary research, training, evaluation and policy advocacy and innovation. It is led by Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the former Secretary for Food and Health who initiated the government’s Primary Healthcare Blueprint, so I am confident it will play a major role in advancing primary healthcare in Hong Kong.
We also do well in translating our research into public health benefits through knowledge exchange. Two recent examples come to mind. The work of Professor Kelvin Wang Man-ping in the School of Nursing and his team helped to convince the Hong Kong SAR government to introduce a total ban on alternative tobacco products here, and was also cited by the WHO and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. And investigations by Professor Ian Wong Chi-kei in the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy and his team identified rare potential adverse events after COVID-19 vaccination, which prompted the Hong Kong SAR government to adapt its vaccination programme in response and the manufacturer to amend its product information. I could cite many other examples but suffice to say, these two show how our work contributes to better human health not only locally but internationally.
The impacts of our research are strengthened through regular exchanges and engagements with our peers outside Hong Kong, which thankfully are in full swing again. We recently welcomed several delegations from Mainland China and overseas and made trips ourselves, involving institutions such as Francis Crick Institute, Queen Mary University of London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Florida, the University of Glasgow and Tsinghua University, with whom we are actively exploring and deepening collaborations. We have also been closely engaging with our international counterparts in the U21 network. HKUMed is the Secretariat of the Health Sciences Group and in April we attended the U21 Presidential Symposium at the University of Queensland, where we updated senior leaders of schools on the Group’s activities and canvassed for new members.
PEOPLE FIRST: A Better Environment for Staff and Students
I have outlined for you the achievements of a very full year and our grand ambitions for the future. You may be wondering, where and how will HKUMed house these expanded activities? In the past, the problem of space would have been foremost among my concerns, because how can we grow without more space? I am delighted to report that we are making good progress in addressing this perennial challenge and providing urgently needed capacity for growth.
Good news came this February when the Town Planning Board supported a rezoning of the site east of 3 Sassoon Road that will allow us to construct a major new academic building there – my deepest thanks to those colleagues, students, alumni and stakeholders who supported our project at the meeting. The rezoning will provide an additional 26,000 square metres by 2028 for teaching and advanced research, including dedicated space for interdisciplinary research. Notably, it will house the School of Clinical Medicine, which celebrated its first anniversary this year and is serving as a platform for closer collaboration across disciplines. Already, the School has established the new Critical Care Medicine Unit and Centre of Cancer Medicine. It has also provided incentives, such as fellowships and protected time, that will help to build up our pool of scientists who can bridge the bench and the clinic.
Our other expansion plans are also making good progress. Work is underway on floors 3 to 6 of the William MW Mong Block to provide more teaching and learning facilities, student facilities, and offices, which will fully open by next year. At 6 Sassoon Road, we are redeveloping the Madam SH Ho Residence and Bayview Restaurant into a Clinical Training and Amenities Centre that will open in phases in late 2026 and 2029. Renovation work to improve the old Estates Building has also started and will provide short-term space before these projects come on-line. Ultimately, major premises on Sassoon Road will be linked and connected to Queen Mary Hospital through the new building at 3 Sassoon Road that opened last year. We are also extending our campus beyond Pokfulam with the HKU Jockey Club Centre for Clinical Innovation and Discovery and HKU Jockey Club Institute of Cancer Care, which will open at the redeveloped Grantham Hospital in 2025. Even more space could become available a few years down the road through potential mega projects such as the Northern Metropolis and HKU-Shenzhen campus.
Managing our existing development plans, let alone future ones, requires a coherent and well-coordinated strategy to integrate the moving pieces and get the most out of these assets. We also need guidance and support from the University, as well as the Hospital Authority and our teaching hospital partners, namely Queen Mary Hospital, Grantham Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital Hong Kong, the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital and the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital Medical Group. We are seeking their input and planning to work together to make the most efficient and effective use of our resources.
PEOPLE FIRST: Our Supporters
As Dean this past year, I have been fortunate to lead a faculty that enjoys tremendous support and respect in the community. I believe this is a two-way relationship. Our successes are made possible precisely because of the goodwill and support we receive from donors, patients, government, the general public, the University central and of course our staff and students. One of our biggest recent donations was the gift I mentioned earlier from Dr Daniel Yu and Mrs Mayce Yu. Sadly, Dr Yu passed away this year, but we have honoured his legacy by naming the Faculty’s Administration Wing as the Daniel and Mayce Yu Administration Wing.
Other sources of support are also making a difference. Young alumni, for instance, have been helpful in our re-imaging campaign for the MBBS and I have been very encouraged to see them getting involved in our development. Alumni overseas have also kindly voiced support during our recruitment drives. Their input helps us to reach new audiences and gives heart to those of us in the Faculty who are working hard to sustain and advance our excellence.
I also wish to thank departing staff whose work has done so much to cement our reputation and improve people’s health locally, regionally and globally. This year we bid a fond farewell to several longstanding leaders in our Faculty: Chair Professor Kathryn Cheah Song-eng of the School of Biomedical Sciences; Chair Professor Mary Ip Sau-man of the Department of Medicine; Chair Professor Eric Chen Yu-hai of the Department of Psychiatry; Professor Peter Chiu Kwong-yuen of the Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology; Professor Ho Shu-leong of the Department of Medicine; Professor Godfrey Chan Chi-fung of the Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine; and Professor Bernard Cheung Man-yung of the Department of Medicine. Having such talented colleagues in our midst helps to lift everyone’s professionalism and ambitions. We will miss all of you very much.
As I hope you have gathered from my summary today, we are a Faculty on the move, working at a breathless pace to catch up with the future after the demanding diversion of COVID-19. Over the past three and a half years, all of us have worked harder, faster and for longer hours to meet the urgent pandemic needs of Hong Kong and the world, while maintaining our standards of excellence. My colleagues and our students have demonstrated great commitment and capacity. Yet, we are human. Without more people – not only more hands on-deck but more ideas and expertise – we cannot realise the opportunities that are within our grasp. I have good reason to think we will succeed in our people challenge because our Faculty is not only buzzing with potential, but takes care of its own. With the University’s support, we are determined to fulfil our commitment to put people at the centre of everything we do. A big thank you to all of our people, the most valuable asset of this now-136-year-old establishment.