From Diligent Student to Reliable Colleague — 135 Years of Mentor-Mentee Relationships at HKUMed
HKUMed has provided medical training in Hong Kong for more than 135 years and its influence extends beyond the final exam hall.
In addition to nurturing thousands of talented healthcare workers over the years, HKUMed provides an environment for teachers and students to forge tight bonds that help carry them through their careers.
As part of celebrations for the Medical Faculty’s 135th anniversary, we are highlighting mentors and their mentees.
For this mentor-mentee pair, we turned to the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology where we found Dr Karen Chan, the Department’s Chairperson and her mentee Dr Sofie Yung, a Clinical Assistant Professor. Dr Chan specialises in gynaecological cancers while her mentee’s focus is reproductive medicine.
The two first crossed paths when Dr Yung was completing her specialty clerkship in obstetrics and gynaecology — her last rotation before her final exams as a medical student — under the direction of Dr Chan.
“Some teachers can be imposing, but she was friendly and didn’t have any airs,” remarked Dr Yung.
From her viewpoint as a tutor, Dr Chan found Dr Yung to be a diligent and outstanding medical student. “I like to support students who have particular potential,” she said. “I could see she had a good grasp of undergraduate-level knowledge, so I loaned her an advanced reference book — she’s the only student I’ve ever lent it to.”
“To be honest, I only looked at a few pages before realising it was too difficult and putting it aside,” Dr Yung admitted.
Clarity is the key to effective teaching
As a busy medical student, Dr Yung was grateful that Dr Chan’s tutorials centred around a defined topic, allowing students to narrow down their required reading. And she fondly remembers Dr Chan taking the class to the labour ward to familiarise them with the equipment.
“I learnt this approach from the former Dean of Medicine and former Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Professor Ma Chung Ho-kei, who was a strong influence on me during my time in the UK,” Dr Chan explained. “She told me: ‘Before you teach something you must think it through clearly, only then can you pass the knowledge on to students.’”
During her five years at medical school at HKUMed, Dr Yung had struggled to pick a specialism, until her clerkship in obstetrics and gynaecology when she discovered her path.
“On one hand, it interested me, but on the other, Karen’s teaching provided a really rich learning experience… she’s definitely one of the reasons I chose obstetrics and gynaecology,” she said.
From teacher-student to colleagues
The pair now work closely on creating the Bachelor and Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery curriculum for obstetrics and gynaecology, an exercise that highlights their differences Dr Chan is daring while Dr Yung is comparatively calm.
“We love to come up with new ideas together,” Dr Chan said. “And if my ideas are too wild, she will keep me in check.”
The expert in gynaecological cancers added that as colleagues, they find it easy to make decisions, often coming to conclusions after only brief discussions.
“I knew her first as a zealous student, now I know her as a reliable colleague who considers every move. I’m really happy we’re now a team,” she said.
Leading by example
Now in their work treating patients at Queen Mary hospital, Dr Yung admires Dr Chan’s consistently positive and supportive attitude on the ward and in operating theatres.
“If we’re doing an emergency surgery and need to call her back to the hospital to help, she never complains,” she said. “In fact, once we’ve completed the operation, she’ll tell everyone they did a good job. And when I’ve had to call her about a complex case, she’ll not just give you the solution, but walk you through the pros and cons of the various options.”
Dr Chan explained that she adopted this approach from her seniors when she was first starting as she finds people learn best from example.
The pair know not every student completing their 7-week clerkship will eventually choose obstetrics and gyanaecology. So, in addition to teaching the most effective examination techniques, they focus on instilling professionalism and empathy to set students up for their careers as doctors.
Dr Chan describes teaching medical students as planting seeds. She sows small seeds that the students then nurture through their studies.
“If I don’t plant those seeds then there’ll be no harvest,” she said. “The thought that every student has the opportunity to achieve more than I have gives me hope.”