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Why did you shift to primary medicine while you were doing a fabulous job as a paediatrician in the UK?
I was a lecturer in paediatrics in Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine back in London and was involved in research and the setting up of the Paediatrics Renal Transplantation Programme there. It was challenging and rewarding. I learnt from those years of experience that prevention is better than cure: I had met cases in which a child died of meningitis and another became seriously hearing impaired after measles infection, which could have been avoided if they’d received vaccinations. I also discovered while working in the community the importance of disseminating proper medical knowledge to and rectifying misconceptions of the general population. This confirmed my determination to work in primary care. A job is what you make of it. Education and prevention help reduce illnesses and complications. Primary care as the first gatekeeper of the entire health care system is of utmost importance.
Why returned to Hong Kong and joined UHS?
My husband accepted an offer by the Prince of Wales Hospital and so the whole family came back. I chose UHS among others because of its primary care focus and liberal workplace environment in which I could put my belief and ideal into practice. It also allowed me to strike a family-work balance and take care of my two sons who were only two to three years old. My years at UHS have been extremely pleasant and satisfying. My choice has proved to be a wise one.
How would you describe the change in patients’ expectation and the role of UHS over these years?
Back then, diagnosis and medication were all that patients asked for. Now they have become more knowledgeable in the information era and would very often come to us with jot-down notes and questions, or printed web information for clarification, expecting detailed explanation on the pathological and pharmacological aspects. We as doctors need to continue learning and keep ourselves abreast of the latest medical knowledge and advancement.
The role of UHS has extended from primary care to the holistic well-being of University members, rehabilitation and education. Over the past decade or so, UHS has, through its presence on the Committee on Health Promotion and Protection, taken part in formulating campus-wide public health policies, implemented the Campus Health Ambassadors Programme and organized talks and first-aid classes, in an effort to create a healthy campus.
What is most unforgettable?
No doubt it’s the SARS outbreak from 11 March to 23 June 2003 when we fought with all our might in a battle against an unidentifiable enemy. We’re frightened and nervous, but also united and high-spirited. No one ever took a single day of sick leave. We had daily briefing at 8 am and set off for a new day’s challenge after chanting support. One day we received about 160 students who claimed they had contacted a SARS patient. The UHS was pushed to its limits. We set up a provisional screening zone, which was overloaded after operating for one month. Then there was a new fever zone. These segregated zones were visited regularly by our medical and nursing staff in full protective gears. Record shows that we had seen 866 fever patients during that period. The lower ground of UHS was converted into a makeshift hostel for mainland students and visiting professors who were quarantined due to fever. UHS was not staffed for 24-hour service, but we survived the crisis with limited resources. I am so proud of our amazing team!
How do you build up your cordial relationship with patients?
With trust, everything comes at ease. When patients trust a doctor, they will remember every word the doctor says. I have patients who recalled what I told them many years ago and how they had changed their behaviours upon my advice. I treasure their confidence in me which had been built up bit by bit over long years. I fully understand the expectations and responsibilities that come with it, and I can only repay them by doing even better. Trust takes root in communication, and listening is important. A doctor has to be sensitive to patients’ hidden messages or body language. There was a patient who kept telling me the superficial symptoms she had. Somehow I felt there must be something more. Before she left the clinic, I asked her, ‘Maybe there’s something more you want from this visit? Why don’t you sit down and tell me?’ She burst out crying in no time. Be empathetic, stand in their shoes and feel for them, so as to give them care and comfort, and assure them that you’re standing by them in fighting the battle. Our attention should be on both the patient’s body and soul.
What’s your plan after retirement?
I need a long vacation before anything else. Let me wake up every day to the call of the birds but not the alarm clock. There are so many things I want to pick up again, like French and my favourite literature. I would like to have reunion with old friends, or just travelling and exploring around, maybe catching the Northern lights and visiting Machu Picchu in Peru. Of course I also want to spend more time with family. I will consider how to continue my medical service after half a year of rest and recharging, but definitely not working full-time again.
This article was originally published in No. 500, Newsletter in Jun 2017.