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The Headlines

A New Breed of Physicians

From left: Prof. Justin C.Y. Wu, Prof. Vincent C.T. Mok, Candy Kang and Nicole Tanner <em>(Photo by ISO Staff)</em>

When it was first launched in 2013, the Global Physician-Leadership Stream (GPS) admitted 22 students with exceptional DSE and IB results. For the next four years, the median scores of its admittees had been the highest in Hong Kong, giving the stream a mythic status. But what is GPS? GPS will send off its first batch of graduates this year. CUHK Newsletter talked to several of its teachers and students.


‘GPS sets the new direction and develops a new culture of medical education in CUHK medicine. In addition to academic and professional competency, CUHK medicine emphasizes personalized education for students based on individual talents and aspirations.’
Prof. Francis K.L. Chan,
Dean of Medicine


When Prof. Justin C.Y. Wu, programme director of GPS, reflected on the mission of GPS, he pointed out that development in healthcare services has been moving towards increasing reliance on technology and forever finer devision of labour. The vision, way of thinking and learning experience of a medical practitioner need to be enhanced accordingly. Despite changes in the curriculum and pedagogy of medical education in the past decades, a paradigm shift is still on the horizon. ‘It's not enough to give the students the latest technology, knowledge and clinical skills,’ said Professor Wu. ‘We aim to develop well-rounded leaders not only in the medical profession but also in the community at large.’

Refining and Upgrading

Professor Wu began with his colleagues to conceive of new elements to be injected into the MBChB programme──research opportunities, leadership grooming, and enhanced overseas experience in the form of leadership workshop series, GPS capstone projects and internships. A personalized mentoring scheme was also introduced. Every year 1 student would be assigned a caring mentor, and in subsequent years a project mentor may be assigned to supervise each of the student's research or activities.

Prof. Vincent C.T. Mok, who's in charge of the mentoring scheme, said, ‘Every student is a quarry. The task of a mentor is to help each student tap into his/her potentials in the course of their studies.’ In his eyes, some students are thinkers, some are writers, some are artists; and some are philanthropists.

A caring mentor's primary task is to help the new students to adapt to the university life and discover their interests and abilities. This has been made easy by technology. Mentor-mentee relationship can be strengthened by tête-à-têtes, WhatsApp chats, etc.

Responsibilities Come with Ability

Professor Wu makes light of the laurel usually bestowed on GPS students but instead takes care to remind them to shoulder extra responsibilities and wield influence upon those around them. He thinks GPS is a game-changer which redefines the meaning of 'excellence' in medical education. ‘Good grades don’t make good doctors. GPS adopts a global and holistic approach to nurture medical students. No doubt many are still aiming at specialization memberships, promotion, a lucrative income, fame and a clinic in Central. But we must sow the seeds of value early on their academic journey. Tunnel vision will only lead the profession to a cul-de-sac.’

Professor Mok wants to see empathy in his students to undertake the same journey with their patients: ‘With the right mindset, one can find a niche for service under any circumstance.'

The entry requirements of GPS are high so that those admitted can take up the greater challenges. But public exam results do not fully measure the candidates’ abilities. About 20–30% of the places are reserved for internal candidates in the second and third years who are distinguished in other areas. Professor Wu said, ‘Students with below-median grades can still make the cut. We have students who, for example, were exceptional in organizing a conference for Asian medical students.’

First and Close Encounter with Research

The mentors’ specializations and networks are assets to the students in enriching their research and overseas experiences. Professor Mok had turned over some raw research materials to his students for a journal article on vascular disease and cognitive disorders. The article was presented at an academic conference and won a first prize. Prof. Martin C.S. Wong gave his data on elderly blood pressure to his students who turned them into a manuscript which got published in International Journal of Cardiology. Such opportunities have enabled the students to know their abilities and interests. Students who have taken a liking to doing research still go to practicum in the hospitals in the daytime. But they also go to the labs in Area 39 in the evenings and the weekends. One's interest is one's greatest motivator.

Prof. Martin C.S. Wong <em>(1st left)</em> enables his students to identity their interest and potential in doing research

Yale and Oxford, partners of CUHK Medical School, offer internships to CUHK medical students every year. The professors also connect their students to their associates in Cambridge and Harvard. Other skills will also be mined. Those interested in engineering, for example, may be encouraged to take part in bioengineering projects. The musically talented may organize activities that promote music therapy. Students who followed Prof. Emily Y.Y. Chan and Dr. Law Sheung-wai to post-disaster regions in Nepal and Sichuan have learnt what they might offer to those in the regions.

GPS students interviewing locals in Nepal and assessing the post-earthquake health impact

Grooming Future Leaders

Leadership skill is the main training focus of GPS. The 12 leadership workshops are divided into four themes: community medical leader; establishing positive relationships; handling negative relationships; and professional leadership in doctors. Each of these workshops is presented by a professor who knows the subject well and then debriefed by the students. Besides, leadership skills are acquired from, over the course of a capstone project, getting supervision from the mentors, working with them and with the other team members as member or leader. With the networks formed from such exposure, Paul Lee set up the ‘Embrace with Empathy’ Charity Service Project and the Association of Doctors for Social Responsibility to promote free medical consultations.

Nicole Tanner set up the ‘Advocate’ webpage to encourage her classmates to post articles of medical interest. She said, ‘Every teacher is a paragon of leadership. GPS is a platform for us to learn from them. Our teachers would comment on our ideas, then give us free hand to take them further and give us help whenever appropriate. They take us step by step on the road to taking up leader responsibilities.’

GPS’s multimodal pedagogy has also caused changes in the core curriculum. Medical students not in GPS have become more proactive in seeking research or event-organizing opportunities from their professors. Some even applied for a gap year to enrich their overseas experience. Professor Wu said, ‘GPS students only take up 10–15% of the medical students body. But if any student wants a share in such opportunities, we will do whatever we can to help them realize their goals.’

Since 2015, 18 GPS students have been awarded the Innovation and Technology Scholarship Award, amounting to about 20% of the total number of awardees

In the words of Candy Kang, who's graduating this year, the one lesson learnt in GPS is: ‘The world is larger than what we think. Medicine is more a platform than a profession. The road to success is many, not just by way of fame or a clinic. A medical student can do so much more in, say, further studies, full-time research, practice and research in parallel, or go into public health. Any learning opportunity will help enrich our future choices.’

The interview of Candy Kang and Nicole Tanner can be viewed here

This article was originally published in No. 519, Newsletter in Jun 2018.

Global Physician-Leadership Stream alumni Faculty of Medicine MBChB Programme Justin Wu Vincent Mok Martin Wong Emily Chan Law Sheung-wai Candy Kang Nicole Tanner Francis Chan