Speech by Dr Ko Wing Man, Guest of Honour

I am most delighted in joining you all this afternoon to witness the graduation of Class 2013 of this University. Thirty two years ago, at this same auditorium, I was a member of the graduating Medic 81 Class. We were clearly told that being a medical and health professional graduate is in itself a tremendous privilege that our society has bestowed upon us so that we were entrusted to take care of the health and well-being of our people through the practice of medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

Like all of you, I and my fellow classmates decided to become a doctor because we wanted to get from our jobs something meaningful apart from all tangible compensation. To us, the belief that we could make a difference in other people’s lives through relief of pain and suffering and improving the health of our community has always remain the driving force behind us in our work.

What then are the attributes that a healthcare professional needs to possess in order to fulfill the roles and functions in protecting the health of the community, and making such a difference? There is no doubt that the community acknowledges and regards healthcare professionals as highly-respected professionals. At the same time, such respect and recognition carries with it high expectation and responsibility. The community looks up on the profession because of the ethical duties and responsibilities that healthcare professionals bear and represent, as well as their commitment to protect and restore human well-being as their prime objective. The Hippocratic Oath stated that “Medicine as a profession is distinguished from other professions by a special moral duty of care to save lives and to relieve suffering. Medical ethics emphasise the priority of this moral ideal over and above considerations of personal interests and private gains.” As healthcare practitioners, what we are dealing with is a person’s health, his most important asset. With such great responsibility upon us, we shall put patients’ interest as the first priority, on top of our own interests and preferences. We shall also take this as the most paramount core value amongst all other principles in our professional code of conduct. It is this degree of accountability that we can demonstrate that in turn justifies the respect and privilege given us by the community.

In order that we could always act in the best interest of our patients in our practice, we need to ensure that we are competent in what we profess. At this milestone of your professional career, and after much has been done by yourselves and your teachers and mentors in the University, you will have to take up the initiative in the pursuit of postgraduate training and lifelong continuous professional development. This is to ensure that we as healthcare practitioners will be competent and updated in the relevant knowledge and skills to practise generally as well as in any specific specialty. With advance in medical technology and escalation in community expectation over our healthcare services, not only are we expected to comply with the requisite Continuing Professional Development requirements but more and more will we need to comply with specific credentialing requirements for advanced or high risk procedures.

It is often said that medicine is not an exact science and no doubt we have all been reminded by our teachers and mentors that we should always remember that we are treating a whole person, not just the diseases. That is also one of the reasons why our faculty has adopted the “Problem based learning, PBL” approach in clinical teaching. Instead of the previous organ / system approach, students are expected to deal with all the inter-related psycho-social issues related to any presenting illness of the patient. It is also widely recognised that in building up a trusting relationship with patients and families, the empathy that we as healthcare practitioners demonstrate and the confidence and positive attitude that we inculcate in the patients are as important as our ability and competence in being able to make evidence based clinical judgement / decision and provide rational advice to the patient and family.

Apart from the very important personal attributes and aptitude as a healthcare practitioner, it is very important also for us to recognise that we are working in the context of the local healthcare system irrespective of whether we are in the public or private sector. In this regard, despite being recognised as a credible and very efficient system comparing with many other countries and having remarkable indices on life expectancy etc, our dual track health care system is facing serious and ever increasing challenges. As in 2012, Hong Kong is spending about 5.2% GDP on health care and approximately half of this is invested through public funding. Majority of OECD Countries are spending close to 10% GDP in healthcare. As at end 2011, we have 1.8 doctors per 1000 population, as compared with OECD average of 3.1 per 1000 population. Again approximating half of our doctors work in public healthcare. The public system however is providing about 90% of hospital services and approximately 15 to 20% of outpatient services as well as nearly all rehabilitation or long term care services. Together with the challenges we are now facing from population growth, rapidly aging population, technology advancement, as well as the constant threat of serious infectious diseases, the question of long term sustainability of the highly subsidised public healthcare system has been raised.

As a result, the workload and pressure on healthcare teams in the public hospitals have been mounting and waiting time for service access to the public is increasingly longer. In seeking to ensure the balanced and healthy developments for the private and public sectors, as well as to alleviate the workload and pressure of healthcare workers in the public sector, the Government is embarking on a number of reform initiatives including the Health Protection Scheme, a review on the resource management and cluster management of Hospital Authority, as well as a review of the manpower and professional development of the different streams of healthcare professionals. At the same time, the Hospital Authority has also implemented short term and medium term measures to help improve the manpower turnover situation and enhance the training and development opportunities of colleagues working in the public sector.

As key members of the healthcare team, all of us would certainly like to be able to provide good quality healthcare services to our patients. This is possible only if we have a system to ensure that limited available resources are rationally deployed in ensuring a universal coverage for all Hong Kong people and a good management system is in operation to put these available resources to the best use in supporting clinical operation and healthcare provision. Apart from getting oneself equipped and prepared to be a good practitioner, therefore, we also need to pay attention to how the local healthcare system is functioning and developing. We all have an important part to play in shaping our own healthcare system and ensuring its healthy and sustainable development.

Last but not least, we all work in teams side by side with each other. Provision of good quality healthcare services would not be possible without contribution from other disciplines. Hence one’s capability to work in teams is as important as our individual skills if excellence is to be achieved. It is therefore most important for us to be able to build up a seamless collaboration with our teammates through good communication skills, understanding, appreciating as well as respecting all other team members.

Graduands, we have all chosen a profession which is special, well respected, very functional and capable of creating significant changes to other people’s lives. To fulfill that role, we must equip ourselves with the requisite knowledge, skills and competence and seek to constantly update ourselves to the most recent development and advances. We are obliged to abide by a strict code of conduct which embodies public expectation of high ethical values, protects patients’ interest and upholds professional integrity. We need to rise to the challenges of changing social values in respecting patients’ autonomy and being questioned on our long standing authority. We need to be aware of one’s role and position in the healthcare system and seek to help improve the system whenever possible. We recognise that healthcare is best provided by a multidisciplinary team of which we are members.

Your senior colleagues who are still in the system have demonstrated their dedication, professionalism and sense of duty to our patients and the community during the SARS outbreak in 2003. I am sure such quality is your aspiration and such core values would similarly be upheld by all of you.

It remains for me to extend to all graduands and your beloved ones my heartiest congratulations and encourage you all to embrace your future professional career as well as its uncertainty, challenges and rewards with utmost eagerness and energy. And, I look forward to constructive encounters when our paths cross each other in our future endeavors.

My best wishes!