Class of 2022 Describe ‘Enrichment Year’ as a Valuable Reset
A research internship with an international non-governmental organisation, volunteering in rural China or picking up another degree in the US might not sound like the usual full-time pursuits of a third-year medical student, yet this is the reality for HKUMed’s aspiring doctors.
Since 2019, all LKS Faculty of Medicine Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) students have taken part in the credit-bearing Enrichment Year during their third year, giving them the opportunity to pursue their individual interests.
Professor CS Lau, who this month became Dean of Medicine, began developing the programme in 2016 to allow medical students to broaden their horizons, gain experiences outside medicine and build empathy. Three years later, he welcomed the Class of 2022 as the first cohort.
MBBS students are tasked with mapping out their own Enrichment Year in accordance with their interests and goals. Options include an exchange semester outside the territory, joining volunteer programmes, internships, or completing a degree either in Hong Kong or at partner institutions overseas.
Professor Lau said the opportunity to obtain a degree at another university before even completing the MBBS programme exemplifies HKUMed’s global standing.
“We are proud that our MBBS course is of a high enough calibre to be recognised by universities in the US or Europe,” he said. “Our students are able to complete a degree in one year that should take three or even leap to a master’s degree.”
Of the 230 students to first complete the Enrichment Year, 61 finished the year with a new degree, Professor Lau said.
Following their recent graduation, a handful of the Class of 2022 returned to campus to share their experiences as the first Enrichment Year cohort alongside Professor Lau.
Max Lim arranged his Enrichment Year to include an internship at the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Office followed by a semester studying public policy at Sciences Po in Paris.
“The idea of public health is very different to that of clinical medicine. For clinical medicine, the emphasis is on the individual level while public health emphasises a global macro perspective.” he said.
Gladys Sit spent the first semester of her Enrichment Year on exchange at the University of Edinburgh where she took courses in public health, biology and economics. An experience she said gave her a cherished second chance to study subjects she had dropped at school.
For the second semester, she returned to Asia to join a public health leadership programme in Yunnan. There she collaborated with a team from Fudan University to research smoking among healthcare professionals and patients.
Students who choose to pursue humanitarian work during their Enrichment Year can select from more than 25 participating local and overseas NGOs. Organisations in Hong Kong include PathFinders which works with the children of migrant mothers and Mother’s Choice which works with teenage mothers.
She said the experience helped improve her communication skills, particularly as she was unfamiliar with the local dialect.
“As a doctor, we might think that we’re explaining something clearly, but in fact we frequently use technical terms,” she said. “We have to look at this from the patient’s perspective, we can’t blame them for not understanding or asking lots of questions. I learnt to be more patient and more considerate of the patient.”
Her classmates also found moments of growth during their year outside the MBBS programme.
Describing the Enrichment Year as a “reset”, the recent graduate said her classmates returned for Year 4 happy, full of new experiences and more mature, dismissing any concerns that students might forget what they learnt in their pre-clinical years.
In addition to exchanges and volunteer programmes, students have the option to complete an intercalated degree either at an international partner university or in Hong Kong.
Among the more than 60 students who opted to pick up an additional degree during their Enrichment Year was Caitlin Yeung, who completed HKUMed’s Master of Public Health programme.
She explained the year allowed her to attend international conferences as well as achieve a personal milestone of publishing a paper in a world-renowned journal.
Her classmate, Tim Yan, also chose to stay at HKUMed where he took a Master of Research in Medicine, giving him a greater insight into research and how this relates to a doctor’s work.
“Doctors have the role of educating patients,” he said. “If I don’t understand research, it will be difficult to communicate. Having the ability to assess research is useful for both prescribing and choosing treatments.”
Discovering the role of research for a career as a doctor was a common theme among the first class to complete the Enrichment Year.
Allison Tai said the Bachelor of Science in Clinical Sciences she completed at the University of Bristol taught her how to apply research techniques to clinical medicine.
Her dissertation relied on data from the country’s National Health Service as well as interviews with patients to study diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
“Medicine is a combination of science and art,” she said. “This experience taught me that research is not just about numbers, but that it can also tell you about a patient’s life experiences. It definitely serves as a good reminder for me as a doctor.”