Hands-on hospital

Education | 19 Oct 2021

Crystal Wu

The chinese university of Hong Kong officially opened its private teaching hospital in September, making the CUHK Medical Centre the first of its kind in Hong Kong.

"This is a private teaching hospital in which we follow the practice of the American system where the medical schools are usually privately owned and it usually runs its own teaching hospital," said Justin Wu Che-yuen, professor and associate dean (health systems) of the faculty of medicine at CUHK who previously served as the chief operating officer at the Medical Centre.

"It is the prevailing system in the United States, but for the British and Australian system, we still follow the public-owned institution."

Hong Kong's medical education system, including the medicine program at CUHK, follows the British system.

"The medical education here is undergraduate in nature, whereas for the North American system, they follow a graduate course," said Wu.

Currently, medical students in Hong Kong go through their pre-clinical and clinical studies at two public hospitals - Queen Mary Hospital for students of the University of Hong Kong, and Prince of Wales Hospital for CUHK students.

Wu said: "Prince of Wales Hospital is still our most important and principal teaching hospital. We arrange various teachings there - including bedside tutorials, seminars and self-initiated learning, and the students may need to follow the doctors to attend emergency calls.

"But for CUHK Medical Centre, we give an additional attachment for our medical students so that they know how private hospitals operate."

During the first three years of pre-clinical studies, students will take medical design thinking workshops at the Medical Centre in Ma Liu Shui, next to University Station in Sha Tin.

They will also be assigned there between their pre-clinical and clinical years, as well as take an additional clinical attachment period when they are rotating to community and family medicine during their fifth year.

"On top of that, there are optional attachment opportunities and internship opportunities for medical students, and in the future, other medical school students including pharmacy, nursing, public health," he said.

Wu believes that the Medical Centre will also look to collaborate with other sister institutions to provide internship opportunities in the future.

Postgraduate training is also available, although housemanship will still be conducted in public hospitals under the Hospital Authority.

"We have worked with the Hong Kong College of Emergency Medicine to provide postgraduate training for emergency medicine doctors or advanced cardiac life-support workshops," he said.

"It is also our wish that we can expand our contribution to postgraduate medical education."

Although students can gain practical experience through learning at public hospitals, Wu said there are disadvantages to medical education in a public hospital setting.

"The wards are overcrowded. Medical personnel are too busy to give tender care to our patients. They cannot provide holistic care and cater for some of the unexpressed needs of our patients," said Wu, explaining that patients are often transferred to rehabilitation hospitals or discharged once they are stable.

"From a medical education point of view, this is not the perfect patient experience. We hope that through the establishment of a private platform, it will give us additional opportunities to let our students have a more in-depth learning experience."

Patient experience is emphasized to convey the message that "healthcare does not mean logistics of sick patients," he added.

With public hospitals, there are more concerns about costs, effectiveness and efficiency, deterring their agility in adopting innovative technology and new care models.

A private platform allows the school to have greater autonomy in pioneering medical innovation.

"As a medical school, I think we also have a unique social mission to uphold the highest standard of the medical profession - quality as well as academic development in Hong Kong," said Wu.

The plans for the Medical Centre have been in the works for a long time - the university first submitted an Expression of Interest in 2010.

"The establishment of CUHKMC was actually rooted in a social mission, because we found that there were a lot of unmet needs in the health-care system, and anticipated that these needs will be increasing in the future."

The university also hopes that the private teaching hospital can serve as a bridge between the public and private medical systems.

"To bridge the two is one of our social missions. We wish to develop services which can offer price certainty and transparency, especially through the provision of package price services."

Package price means that certain medical services are charged in a bundle. Patients will also be notified beforehand about possible extra charges.

The hospital has also reached an agreement with the government to accept referral of specialist outpatient and day surgery cases from the Hospital Authority where patients only have to pay public hospital rates.

Less than a year in the running, the hospital is still in its infancy and is slowly growing its operation as well as its educational functions.

"Some of the future initiatives of the CUHK Medical Centre will involve some of the medical students who are well-trained and equipped and can actually contribute to patient care through a health-care ambassador scheme."

Wu said students will gain a better learning experience, direct patient feedback and, most importantly, empowerment through their contribution. It could also groom their empathy - "one of the key qualities of health-care professionals."

"We are confident that through CUHK Medical Centre, we will give additional learning experience to our students to groom their professional empathy, to groom them to be a changed leader in the future and also give them a broadened perspective about how the health-care system operates - not just a parochial view in the public setting, but through the private platform," said Wu.


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