If there were a checklist available to determine what makes a winner in life, Dr Emily Chi-Wan Hung would probably be able to put a tick in every one of those checkboxes.

Having graduated from Cambridge University with First Class Honours in 1997, Hung returned to Hong Kong in the same year and completed her clinical training at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) with an Honours degree – and that was only the beginning of her many achievements. In 2009, Hung and her team published the world’s first report on a previously unknown facet of marrow-derived stem cell plasticity in human, earning her the Young Investigator Award at the 6th International Conference on Circulating Nucleic Acids in Plasma and Serum. More recently in 2015, she was elected as one of the Hong Kong Ten Outstanding Young Persons.

MIMS sat down with Hung for an exclusive interview, during which she generously shared her secret to success. One might think this was due to outstanding amounts of effort, or exceptional intelligence – but more than these, said Hung, was the influence of her peers.

Peer support trumps all

“A senior doctor once reminded me: When you look back after having practiced for eight to 10 years, you will realize your dearest friends will still be your peers, those whom you studied with and experienced peaks and troughs together through the journey from medical student to houseman,” Hung remembers.

“I knew how right he was: We knew we were likely to take different paths eventually, as we pursued our careers in various specialties. That was why we so treasured the time when we could study as a group or work as a team, and made sure to support one another and pick each other up when necessary.”

With doctors having to take in a startling amount of information every day, Hung pointed out that the forming of study groups is one of the most effective methods for medical students to prevent information overload. “When I was studying at CUHK, we would always share case studies worth a deeper look with each other. It helped us to save a good deal of time researching for in-depth, trustworthy information.”

Balancing medical practice with education

Prior to her current demanding role as Medical Director of her own private clinic, Hung was also a member of the Medical Curriculum Reform Board during 2001–2010. From streamlining course syllabi and precisely picking out must-know pieces of medical knowledge to screening reference books, she hoped to provide students with a much more efficient way of mastering an overwhelming amount of material in a limited amount of time.

“Prioritize what you need to learn. Imagine the life-and-death decisions that you are going to make for the first time in your career. Make sure you are well prepared for these decisions before you begin your housemanship. If we wake you up in the middle of the night, and you are still able to explain clearly how you would deal with these emergency scenarios, then I will believe you can handle it in a hospital setting,” Hung advised.

Dr Emily Hung (left) with her classmate Dr Wesley Chan (right), a physician at The University of Hong Kong, where she was invited to deliver a presentation on fever in a young child.
Dr Emily Hung (left) with her classmate Dr Wesley Chan (right), a physician at The University of Hong Kong, where she was invited to deliver a presentation on fever in a young child.

Collective effort necessary to avoid tragic consequences

Dedicated to education, Hung is also Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at CUHK, teaching medical undergraduates in Clinical Paediatrics. Hence, she fully understands the nerve-wracking environment that hospitals can symbolize for the students – especially since every decision is critical.

Regarding the rising number of medical students and young doctors committing suicide in recent years, Hung admits the situation is worrying. “The evolution and speed with which negative news spreads, and stories escalate, is a major stress factor for all doctors. Once a doctor receives negative press, it spreads within seconds, whether or not it is objective and/or true. Once out, it becomes near-impossible for the doctor to save his or her reputation,” she added.

Human as we all are, it is unavoidable that doctors will make the occasional mistake, but not all of these deserve negative publicity. The best solution for this, as in any other industry, is probably making detection a collective effort. “We can take reference from how the aviation industry achieves an extremely low accident rate. Their organization structures allow anyone to voice out when they see warning signs, regardless of their positions and hierarchy in the company,” said Hung.

To illustrate the concept, Hung quoted a case in which a patient care assistant who was responsible for bathing newborn babies suspected that one of the babies was unable to move his arms. The assistant reported her suspicions to the nurses, who then informed Hung. Realizing the issue was unusual and could be life-threatening, Hung immediately returned to the hospital and arranged brain and neck scans for the baby. Within hours, a rare tumour in the baby’s neck that had put pressure on the nerves causing acute cord compression was discovered.

“Patient care assistants may not have as strong a medical background as doctors and nurses, but as they have a good deal of daily interaction with the baby, they are also the key people to note these red flags,” she emphasized.

One can never go wrong with a job that piques interest

When asked if she regrets pursuing a career in Paediatrics, as paediatricians often receive more emergency calls in their specialty training, Hung’s answer was firm and determined.

“First, be very sure that your specialty can keep you interested when you are making that choice. By interest, I mean that you won’t lose the motivation and persistence, even when repeating the same task every day,” she said.

“Second, give yourself a reason for doing what you do, and remind yourself of the meaning to it. There are diseases that can have severe consequences for children – even if not fatal, these may hinder growth, and without appropriate treatment, the impacts can be irreversible and negatively affect their quality of life in the future,” she continued.

“As such, I derive satisfaction when I manage to detect these diseases and provide proper treatment to these children before it’s too late. It is the reason why I chose Paediatrics as my specialty, and I have never once regretted my choice. Be sure that you can say the same about yours,” she advised. MIMS

Read more:

Doctors and Medical Students More Prone to Depression, Suicide
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Rising suicide rates among medical students rings alarm bells for profession
Medical malpractice suits and lying: Dilemma for doctors amidst peer pressure