Upward and onward

It is my great honour to stand here before you and give my heartiest congratulations to new graduates and our honoured academic staff, and a warm welcome to the whole extended HKUMed family. I have greatly treasured the past few months as your Dean, listening to students and staff, understanding your needs and wants, and being impressed by the hard work, commitment and thoughtfulness that you bring to our Faculty. The task for my team and me going forward is to respond to your views and advice and realise our shared vision of achieving even greater things in the years to come.

My guiding principle is that people must remain at the centre of everything that HKUMed does. This starts with our students. Teaching is at the heart of our existence. We have a duty to provide our students with the best possible education and opportunities to excel, so they can serve and lead in Hong Kong and beyond. We also have a duty to make sure our teachers are working with a curriculum that is fit-for-purpose and to give them opportunities to advance in their careers. I will be looking to achieve improvements on all these fronts.

Research is also at the core of our mission. Our COVID-19 research has thrust us into the limelight, but it is not the only area where HKUMed’s scholars are world-leading. This autumn, 24 of them were named in Clarivate Analytics’ 2022 Highly Cited Researchers. The Faculty was ranked 13th in the subject of Clinical and Health by the 2023 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Those achievements are points of pride resulting from years of effort. My team and I are committed to surpassing these results. We aim to ensure HKUMed researchers have the resources and collegial support they need to achieve excellence and break new ground. This is one of the most important things that the Faculty leadership must do – to be aware of the academic and professional needs of each of our members and find a way to fulfil those needs as far as possible.

The most urgent of those needs is for more space to accommodate our activities and to facilitate our ambitions. A lack of sufficient physical space has plagued the Faculty for as long as we have existed. I’m very pleased to confirm that after years of effort and planning, we are making great progress in addressing this problem. The opening of the No. 3 Sassoon Road building in the summer is only the first step in our physical expansion plans.

Tying all these pieces together is what I see as the mission of our Faculty going forward. We have excellent students and researchers and a strong heritage of service to the Hong Kong community (it is our 135th anniversary this year), and we have much respect in the region and the world for our achievements. But there is no time to rest on our laurels. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic and geopolitical events that have followed, have shown us how inadequate our understanding of the world can be. We need to look down the line and start rethinking now what our medical school should be like in five, 10 and 25 years. What training will be necessary for future doctors? What areas should our research efforts be directed towards? Where will our opportunities lie and how can we make the most of our position at the global front gate of the Greater Bay Area (GBA)?

These questions do not have fast or easy answers. But in these past few months, with valued input from staff and students, some obvious directions over the short to medium term have become apparent.

Already some changes have been introduced around the central idea that we want our medical students to acquire core competencies essential for safe and ethical practice. We are calling this the ‘MBBS140 curriculum’. Teaching will be delivered through the 140+ CORE, which refers to Common situations pertaining to Ordinary clinical settings, in which students are expected to acquire the Relevant knowledge, skills and behaviour that are Essential for competent and ethical professional practice. Furthermore, students will be expected to have the skills to acquire necessary new knowledge on their own and keep learning and advancing their understanding of healthcare-related issues throughout their careers.

The MBBS 140 curriculum will be fully implemented in 2024 when the current second-year medical students enter their clinical training; in order to achieve this, we are making a lot of preparations now. In particular, we are aligning pre-clinical and clinical years teaching along the ‘140+ CORE’ more closely, which requires even stronger collaboration between the School of Clinical Medicine and the School of Biomedical Sciences. We are also rationalising the use of problem-based learning, preparing assessments in the clinical years that will put greater emphasis on practical competency, and embracing simulation-based teaching and other multimedia technologies. An ‘Advanced Curriculum’ is planned for students who want an extra challenge. We are also strengthening other curriculum components including Precision Medicine, the systems and practices within the GBA, and the integration of western and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Students themselves are also being brought into the teaching picture more explicitly. Our classes are getting bigger and that should be seen as a wider resource pool – fellow students are often a great place to start when navigating through lessons and studies. Senior students have rich experiences that they should be sharing with their junior counterparts. We hope to instil in students the idea that teaching is part of their professional responsibility, and we will be giving them opportunities to practise their skills as volunteers in peer-to-peer teaching and to participate in curriculum development.

These developments are not limited to the MBBS. We keep all of our academic programmes under review to ensure they are agile and adaptive, especially as technology advances and new opportunities for learning open up in the region. In that vein, we re-launched the BSc in Bioinformatics this September, with an initial intake of 13 students.

All of these measures are coming under scrutiny through next year’s accreditation of the MBBS programme by the Medical Council of Hong Kong and the imminent academic review of the Faculty as a whole by the University. While I have no doubt that the Faculty’s excellence will be duly recognised, we will be working very hard to meet the demands of these exercises.


Scaling up

HKUMed’s international reputation has soared throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has showcased our research and expertise in emerging infectious diseases. In January, for instance, we performed better than ever in the Research Grants Council’s funding exercise, receiving $82.4 million which is over 40% higher than last year. Our COVID-19 expertise has contributed to our success, so has the enthusiasm of our young researchers and the increasing collaboration between the biomedical and clinical fields.

Behind these results, though, lies a big challenge for me and my team: how can we help our researchers to do even better?

HKUMed’s strengths did not appear out of the blue. They were built, over many years, on the efforts and collegiality of our scholars and investment by the Faculty and its providers. To sustain our international and Asian rankings, treading water will not be good enough. We need to dream bigger.

My aim, then, in the coming few years, is to scale up the Faculty and grow our aspirations. We have more opportunities than ever; thanks to the government’s decision to invest in developing Hong Kong into an international innovation and technology hub. This aspiration is echoed in the University as a whole, where new facilities and collaborations are opening up around innovation and technology, including the DeepTech initiative, the Global Innovation Centre and initiatives in the GBA including the development of the HKU-Shenzhen campus.

HKUMed is a driving force in bringing these aspirations forward. We have been harnessing resources to sharpen our capabilities, including adding new core facilities, strengthening data science capabilities, promoting transdisciplinary research through joint appointments, promoting new strategic research initiatives and extending our international partnership network. These efforts will position us to grasp new research and impact opportunities in both Hong Kong and the GBA. Fortunately, our ambitions coincide with our physical expansion plans, which give us the means to accommodate our growth and new directions.


Growing outwards

As I mentioned earlier, the new building at No. 3 Sassoon Road, which houses the Schools of Nursing and Chinese Medicine, is the first visible expansion of our footprint in Hong Kong in some years. You may have heard of our other expansion plans along Sassoon Road, as well as the Green Belt next to that building and dedicated cancer centres at the new Grantham Hospital. These facilities will come online over the next few years and not a minute too soon. Total staff numbers have risen by 45% over the past decade while annual undergraduate intake has more than doubled over the past 20 years – since the campus at 21 Sassoon Road first opened. We clearly are in great need of more laboratories, office space and classrooms to accommodate our activities.

We also need to consider our clinical services for both teaching and research – both students and researchers need access to more patients and a wider range of diseases. This year we formalised our clinical affiliation with the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital Medical Group in clinical services, teaching and research, adding to our long-term clinical partnerships with Queen Mary Hospital, Grantham Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital and the HKU-SZH.

Let me single out HKU-SZH, which has been a feather in the cap for HKUMed. Last year, it became one of 14 high-quality experimental hospitals nationwide named by the central government to lead the country in developing innovative new treatments, providing green healthcare, and treating the most serious illnesses. This is a remarkable achievement for a hospital that only celebrated its 10th anniversary this year! The HKU-SZH is also expanding. By 2025, a research block and additional 1,000-bed clinical block will open, which will also benefit HKUMed.

HKU-SZH should also be seen in the context of the greater opportunities opening up as Hong Kong becomes more integrated with the GBA. I’m sure there will be further developments there in the next few years that create new avenues for study and research for our Faculty members.


People at the centre

I mentioned at the start that people are at the centre of everything we do at HKUMed. Our planned activities and infrastructure are only of value if we have talented, ambitious people in place who are keen to use the coming opportunities to experiment and grow. This is as true for students, in terms of the quality of intake, as it is for staff. While we have some control over policies and incentives for students, we face some constraints for staff, such as the funding model for Hong Kong higher education and research and the University’s HR policies. My team and I are working around these constraints by sharpening our organisation and making the Faculty even more attractive for potential scholars.

This year, for instance, saw the organic integration of clinical medicine departments into the new School of Clinical Medicine, which opened in February this year and will deepen opportunities for transdisciplinary research. We are also incentivising new research by re-launching the HKUMed Clinical Research Fellowship to encourage early-career doctors to undertake research, and increasing the number of awards for the HKUMed Research Fellowship Scheme for Clinical Academics. Disciplinary leadership in the Faculty is also being enhanced by empowering Heads and Chairpersons of departments, and promoting communication with a view to build higher morale and mutual trust.

On recruitment, we are deploying internationally competitive packages and pressing ahead with our 140-for-140 programme to recruit 140 additional scholars by the time of our 140th anniversary in 2027. We are also promoting talent within the Faculty. Professor Gilberto Leung, for instance, is the new Co-Director of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, succeeding Dr Philip Beh who has done a stellar job in this role for the past 10 years. Two other notable departures this year were Professor Anne Lee, Clinical Professor and Head of the Department of Clinical Oncology, and Professor Eric Chen, Chi-Li Pao Foundation Professor, Chair Professor in Psychiatry and Head of Psychiatry who, among other things, developed one of the first comprehensive early psychosis intervention programmes in Asia. I thank them heartily for their service and wish them well in their future endeavours.

In a recent Townhall Meeting, one of our professors reminded me that, as a comprehensive medical faculty, we must not lose sight of the importance of all disciplines when strategising HKUMed’s academic development. Every member of our Faculty plays a role in propelling HKUMed forward, be they student, lecturer, researcher or administrative supporting staff. HKUMed in turn should support our members, not only in helping them to map out their career paths but also making them feel engaged and supported. Even the simplest gestures can have impact. On the day we launched our third mentorship scheme last month, a newly joined Clinical Assistant Professor told me how, in 2015 when he was working as a resident in the United States, he found my email contact from the University’s website and wrote to me asking about the prospects of Clinical Immunology in Hong Kong. Although I did not know who this stranger was, I replied to him with an assessment within hours and he told me that my response made him decide to come to Hong Kong once he finished his training. He subsequently joined Queen Mary Hospital’s Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine as a specialist resident before eventually joining HKUMed.

Our Faculty is built on the commitment and excellence of all its current members and those who came before us. We have been celebrating their achievements this year in our 135th anniversary festivities. Anniversaries are times to reflect, as well as to look forward. HKUMed has achieved remarkable things for a Faculty that is relatively small compared to medical schools of a similar international standing. We are now perched on a magnificent springboard for escalating to new heights as we welcome a much-needed influx of resources and people. But at the same time, we should not forget our origins. HKUMed has excelled because of its people. My job is to look after this resource – to look after you – and make you feel very much a part of this HKUMed legacy going forward. My door will remain open to all members of the HKUMed family as we take the next steps in our journey together.