Secretary, Registrar cum Executive Vice President and former Faculty Secretary, Dean, fellow former Deans, chief executives of our teaching hospital partners, President of our medical alumni association, parents, colleagues, graduands, ladies and gentlemen,
As Dean Leung so eloquently pointed out, our Faculty has flourished in the past decade under his guardianship and mentorship. Many incentives have borne fruit under his careful watch and many more are germinating. I feel both honoured and a little anxious to be entrusted to receive the baton from Dean Leung. Having worked closely with him since he first became Dean, I have learnt two important lessons: the first is never to rest on my laurels, and the second is that in order for the Faculty to grow from strength to strength, we need to have a far-sighted vision and a ‘can do’ attitude.
In preparation for next year, when the Medical Council of Hong Kong (MCHK) will carry out an assessment of our MBBS programme as part of its five-year re-accreditation exercise, and the University will conduct its Academic Review of the Faculty, we have an opportunity to take stock of our strengths and limitations and prepare for our future expansion.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ This oxymoron by Dickens aptly describes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our Faculty. The pandemic has been both a curse and an opportunity in disguise. Although it has caused unprecedented disruptions to every aspect of our lives, such that our hospitals buckled under the strain; our doctors and healthcare workers were stretched to the limit; our students’ clinical learning was stalled; and social distancing became the new ‘normal’ - we, as a team, have managed to ride out the storm together. And along the way, we have learnt some valuable lessons. The great poet and visionary William Blake wisely said, ‘Great things are done when men and mountains meet.’
The numerous social restrictions and public health measures imposed by the Government to curb the spread of infection forced us to invent new ways to teach and assess our students. We quickly moved our teaching online, developing innovative teaching and learning paradigms and practices like remote teaching, telehealth and simulation training to minimise hiccups in our students’ learning. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of continuous training and the essential skills we must instill in our students before they venture out into the wider community. The opportunity to have worked at the frontline combatting COVID has also reminded me of why I wanted to become a doctor and a teacher in the first place: to serve patients and my city.
One morning in March, when the COVID-19 outbreak was at the height of the fifth wave and I was getting ready to do rounds among the patients at the Choi Wing Road community isolation facility, the nurse on duty came to me to say that a 94-year-old lady was distraught. I went to see the patient with a few medical students to find out more. This poor lady was crying and asked us in a very strong northern Putonghua accent for something that we could not understand. My students and I were a bit lost and looked around for help. Another nurse then came over and explained, in an untypical Hong Kong Cantonese accent, that the woman was unhappy that she was taken from her residential care home for no ‘good’ reasons. She blamed us for giving her a ‘cold’ and a bad cough, and wanted us to return her to her home. We were able to understand the cause of her distress because the second nurse was a healthcare aide from the Mainland who had come here to support our community facility.
Such teamwork, effective communication and professionalism have been strong takeaways during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is just as important to realise and respond to a doctor’s civic responsibilities as it is to understand the role of the BRCA gene mutation in the development of breast cancer or the treatment of refractory lymphoma using genetically re-engineered T cells as in CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell) therapy. Indeed, it has been a humbling experience to help in the COVID response. I hope my fellow teachers, and also the stars of today’s ceremony, will agree with me about the importance of 毋忘初心.
My dear graduands, the COVID-19 pandemic also highlights the importance of our city’s need to be prepared with a timely response to emerging health disasters. We need to stay alert and be aware of the importance of primary health care in disease prevention. We have a shared responsibility to serve our ageing population better by appreciating, assessing and managing not only their physical needs but also their social needs.
So, looking into the near and intermediate future, what are the key things we need to address? Training the next generation of doctors, healthcare workers and researchers has been, and remains, our number one priority. With the doubling of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes and students joining the Faculty, a lot must be done to ensure each and every student graduates as a competent doctor, nurse, Chinese medicine practitioner, pharmacist, or biomedical or global health scientist. Moving forward, a planned tripartite collaboration in 2023 between the two local medical schools (CUHK and HKU) and the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine (HKAM) will ensure continuous professional training is made available to our graduates throughout their careers.
But we have other goals and demands, too, and we have adopted a three-pronged approach to achieving them: expand and enhance the teaching and research environments and facilities, overhaul our MBBS curriculum, and develop our human capital.
Dean Leung’s vision and tireless efforts over the last ten years have laid the groundwork for our continual growth. Number 3 Sassoon Road opened this week as a new home for the School of Chinese Medicine and School of Nursing. The space vacated at the William MW Mong Building will be converted into facilities primarily for MBBS students, including a state-of-the-art clinical skills training centre with simulation facilities and a student services centre. A high-speed avant-garde information technology hub will connect these facilities to the Medical Library and teaching venues at Queen Mary Hospital for an augmented and virtual reality teaching and learning experience that embraces the future.
Opposite the new complex on 6 Sassoon Road, construction of a new Clinical Training and Amenities Centre with two additional blocks housing medical and nursing students will soon be underway, with target completion dates in 2024 and 2027, respectively.
In addition, the successful rezoning of the Green Belt site is key to our campus redevelopment plan. This space will enable us to consolidate the research labs and offices of the Schools of Clinical Medicine and Public Health, including a BSL3 lab, large animal core facility and MRI/GMP lab. This significant development will pave the way for consequential space reallocation at the Laboratory Block, thereby allowing further expansion of our School of Biomedical Sciences, Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, and core facilities for strategic research development.
To further address our space shortage in the long run, we will be redeveloping the Patrick Manson Building complex. A University pedestrian corridor along Sassoon Road is also being planned, providing a convenient link between Queen Mary Hospital and the Sassoon Road campus.
There is no better argument for the importance of continuing to push our research excellence forward than our experience over the past two and a half years. Our scientific and health services research has achieved a direct impact on not only Government health and social policies, but also, encouragingly, on patient care and management. This should surely inspire us to work even harder!
The establishment of various core research facilities over the last decade has supported the expansion of the Faculty’s research portfolio. To enable further development, more facilities will be established in the future. For example, the launch of the HKU-HA Data Collaboration Laboratory earlier this year provides welcome access to the HA data platform to support digital health and big data research. In two-months’ time, we look forward to welcoming students of the rebranded BSc (Bioinformatics) programme. A new journey will commence for the next generation of biomedical data scientists and digital healthcare technologists, supporting development and entrepreneurship in this burgeoning area.
In 2023, the Cryo-EM facility will commence operation, creating a platform for us to develop impactful drug and clinical therapeutics discoveries. Also, the eagerly anticipated opening of the University Block at Grantham Hospital, home for the Centre for Clinical Innovation and Discovery (CCID) and Institute for Cancer Care (ICC), will provide dedicated facilities for oncology translational research and bring -omics and cell-based technologies to advance cancer treatment, which is a major strategic research theme of the Faculty.
While buildings and hardware are important preparations for the future, a fit-for-purpose curriculum is doubly so to ensure our graduates are properly trained to serve the future needs of Hong Kong and beyond. For the MBBS, the establishment of the School of Clinical Medicine will enhance synergy between clinical departments, allowing for more effective interdisciplinary teaching and learning to take root. This aligns well with the ongoing plan to reform the clinical curriculum to accommodate larger cohorts of students requiring training in the wards and outpatient clinics. The acid test will be when the M25 students commence their clinical training in the academic year of 2023/24.
Bolstering our commitment to equip the doctors of tomorrow with appropriate knowledge and skills is the new point of care ultrasonography teaching course, which will be launched this year for Specialty Clerks of the M23 Class. Thanks to a generous donation, each student will be given a handheld ultrasound probe, the ‘stethoscope of tomorrow’, for curricular training and self-practice during attachments to various clinical departments. This initiative will be expanded to more junior clinical students in the coming years.
We are also continuing to develop and perfect an e-portfolio to enable continuous assessment, as well as the e-OSCE (objective structured clinical examination), to ensure clinical competence. These measures will avoid the difficulties we faced over the last three years in organising clinical examinations amidst the COVID pandemic.
Human Capital Development
Expansions and developments aside, one must not forget that human capital development is central to the success of any plans for the future. A good understanding and appreciation of the different strengths and scopes of our professoriate corps, including clinician-scientists and practice-track colleagues, is crucial to ensuring continued excellence in our teaching and research endeavours. The Faculty will progressively increase the recruitment of practice track clinical professors and is actively revisiting the appointment and promotion criteria of these colleagues.
To maintain our edge in clinical teaching and patient management, we urgently need to expand our patient base and diversify our clinical settings to meet the increasing demand for clinical placements of medical and nursing students and provide clinical research opportunities in the years to come. We are in active discussion with the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital to set up a Clinical Affiliation Scheme, which is in addition to our partnerships with the Hospital Authority, the Gleneagles Hospital Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University Shenzhen Hospital and Hong Kong Children’s Hospital.
Joint appointments between Schools and Faculties will be encouraged to enhance synergies between clinicians and scientists. And policy changes will be proposed to allow for more joint appointments with overseas universities to expand our global academic reach and collaborations.
Once COVID restrictions relax, we will also ramp up our international recruitment campaign to fill our new facilities with the best talents from around the world. This will feed into our longer-term vision of developing a new teaching hospital in the North Metropolis and a possible medical campus in Shenzhen.
The plans outlined above cannot materialise without the dedication and hard work of every one of us. I hope you will extend your support to me to continue and expand on this legacy of all our former Deans!
Finally, please allow me to thank Dean Leung once again for his unwavering leadership in steering the development of the Faculty from strength to strength during his Deanship. It would be remiss of me not to thank him for his support and advice during the transitional process over the past three months. His vision, charisma, selflessness and action-and-no-nonsense attitude set a very high bar to follow. While I envisage my tasks ahead are going to entail an uphill battle, I know I can always count on Gabriel. I know that he cherishes comradeship and, despite his varied and accomplished career thus far, he holds HKUMed dearer to his heart than anything else!
Thank you, Dean Leung! Thank you, Gabriel!