At AMSAHK we always strive to keep the contributions of those who came before us in mind, and continue their work towards the future. For the inaugural issue of this alumni newsletter, our current president Charlotte spoke to Dr. Nicholas Fung, Clinical Assistant Professor at HKU as well as one of the founding members of AMSAHK, to learn more about the roots of our organisation as well as his own experience in building it.
Starting Up AMSAHK
Charlotte: Tell us about your experience in pre-clinical years. Why were you drawn to AMSA activities in the first place, and where did the idea of establishing an inter-school student society come from?
Dr. Fung: When I first started studying medicine, AMSA was two separate clubs in the two universities, with around 4 to 5 students in the executive committee, and only Exco members had the opportunity to participate in the annual Asian Medical Students’ Conference (AMSC) organised by AMSA-International. The first AMSC we attended was in Indonesia and only comprised of myself and Samuel Ling, the CUHK spokesperson. I remember wanting the opportunity to participate in AMSC to be more equally available to all medical students, with a better representation of Hong Kong, which is where the idea to create an official inter-school student society started.
Charlotte: Did you receive a lot of support when you decided to create an official association for AMSA activities, and what were some challenges that you faced?
Dr. Fung: One of the greatest challenges when setting up AMSAHK was receiving adequate support from both faculties. I recall that the deans of both faculties were generally on board with the idea because it seemed like a good opportunity for their students, but aside from them we had to be supported by at least 70% of students from both universities. Back then we made presentations during lunch breaks talking about what a future AMSA Hong Kong might become, and sat in the hallway to get signatures from students. A lack of knowledge surrounding AMSA definitely made starting up the society very difficult in the beginning.
Charlotte: What was your original vision for AMSAHK?
Dr. Fung: First and foremost to us was that AMSAHK had to foster a sense of unity between medical students of both HKU and CUHK; therefore, presidents would have to alternate every year between the two universities, with a general 1:1 ratio of Exco members as well. AMSAHK members would start working in their respective departments as secretaries from Year 1, and one secretary from each school would lead in Year 2 as that department’s directors - the advantages of this system were that it could achieve continuity in our work, making it easier to complete projects that might for last more than one tenure compared to if our entire Exco were replaced every year.
Charlotte: Could you briefly talk about the work AMSAHK did in your first few years? What sort of work did you do, and what were your main areas of focus?
Dr. Fung: The first year was our foundation year, where we set up the pillars and base of the association for it to run well in the future. This mainly involved a lot of logistic work, such as having to register AMSAHK with the Hong Kong Police as an official society under the Societies Ordinance, and setting up our office with the support of the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital. We also tried to make a name for ourselves on an international level where we sent our largest group to date with 40 medical students from the two universities to the AMSC held in Thailand to try and achieve more representation for HK. At the AMSC the Hong Kong delegation won every academic award at the event. To continue on this success, we led another delegation to the East Asian Medical Student Conference (EAMSC) in Osaka and So that first year was quite busy for all of us…
For the second year we focused on expanding our reach, both by setting up the Standing Committees to carry out local activities as well as looking into establishing membership in the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). That year we also started up a student travelling scholarship in collaboration with the HK Sanatorium & Hospital, allowing HK medical students in need to the opportunity to broaden their horizons and learn from overseas professionals.
In the third year of AMSAHK, we organised more exchanges with the Asian Medical Students’ Exchange Program (AMSEP), and made a successful bid to host AMSC in Hong Kong two years later. Eventually hosting AMSC in Hong Kong was very important in helping us gain the recognition we needed in order to carry our work out more smoothly. I was also involved with AMSAHK until my fifth year of medical school to keep its operations running.
Charlotte: How do you think your experience in AMSAHK changed you, or affected your career development?
Dr. Fung: I wouldn’t really say AMSAHK had a major impact on what specialty I chose or my career in general, but how it did help me was to gain connections such as by meeting people in AMSA International through the academic conferences, as well as learn many collaboration skills and soft skills that are still useful to my work now. Starting an association of this scale took a lot of perseverance, planning and luck. One of the most important skills I learned throughout is to be able to spot opportunities and take advantage of them in a timely matter.
AMSAHK on the International Stage
Charlotte: Aside from being one of its co-founders, how did Hong Kong contribute to AMSA-International (aside from co-founding it) before our establishment in 2003? Were we still known as AMSA Hong Kong before 2003?
Dr. Fung: I can’t say I’m familiar with the status of the prior foundation, since AMSA-I was still a relatively small organisation back then. But after their tenure here in AMSAHK, many of our alumni did go on to hold positions in AMSA-I, getting the opportunity to learn and gain experience from other medical students on an international level.
Charlotte: When you set up AMSAHK and started interacting with other international medical students’ organisations, communication technology such as video conferences and chat rooms must have been quite simplistic compared to today. How were you able to maintain effective communication with our parent organisations?
Dr. Fung: Back then, for most on-the-fly communications we used email, but most of the important meetings and discussions happened during the conferences when delegates from different countries could come together and meet each other. This actually allowed us to be able to know each other better and form deeper connections: for example, I still remember the last conference I attended, which was the EAMSC held in Osaka, Japan. After the conference itself was over, all of us met up to further travel around the area, and we were able to create many precious memories in the process. And so, even if modern technology allows you to contact medical students from other countries much more easily, the experience of going to an international conference and meeting up in person is still irreplaceable.
Charlotte: Even though AMSAHK belongs to two parent organisations being IFMSA, AMSA-I, there seems to be a sort of imbalance between our involvement in these two organisations, with a majority of our project departments directed involved in IFMSA and only ACAD, SCOE, PR, and SCOPH actively engaging with the work of AMSA-I. Would you have any concerns regarding this?
Dr. Fung: I actually think it’s quite normal! In the early days of AMSAHK, most of our activities were much more focused around AMSA-I with much less involvement in IFMSA. Since our parent organisations have different initiatives and conferences for our members to participate in, I think that compared to balance, taking part in the activities that will benefit us the most is much more important. I’m happy to see that AMSAHK continues to evolve and keep up with current times. Being the first inter-university student group in Medicine means paving the road forward for many medical students and organizations to come.
The Road Forward for AMSAHK
Charlotte: Finally, I’d like to ask you a few short questions looking ahead into the future. What visions do you have for the future development of AMSAHK?
Dr. Fung: I see the potential for AMSAHK to grow even bigger than it currently is. The huge platform the organisation currently enjoys with its many departments allow for a breadth of topics to be covered, as well as many avenues of opportunity to be explored.
Charlotte: AMSAHK currently has nine project departments that explore different aspects of health and healthcare. While our work isn’t that niche and focused on one particular specialty or practice unlike some other student organisations, how would you comment on our current direction? Does our work align to what you envisioned when you founded AMSAHK?
Dr. Fung: Not having a niche is perfectly okay! Many medical students, especially those who are just starting out in Year 1, don’t really know what they want out of their career, and not focusing on a specific issue or topics means that AMSAHK can offer them a wide range of activities to explore, and develop their own interests.
Charlotte: Even though we have many project departments who are all organising their own activities and events, one potential issue is that we may lack representation for clinical students due to all of our executive committee being pre-clinical students. Do you have any suggestions for how we might give them better representation in what we do?
Dr. Fung: From my experience, the clinical years are when many medical students begin seriously considering their lifelong career and what path they will take - therefore, they would probably be more interested in things relating to choosing a specialty to focus on. You might consider inviting some AMSAHK alumni to help with this, and deliver talks relating to their own respective specialties so that clinical year students might gain more exposure. Aside from that, you may also consider promoting research exchange events under your Standing Committee on Professional Exchange (SCOPE) towards them, so that they may have the opportunity to participate in more research as well.
Charlotte: While AMSAHK is an expanding society that consists of medical students, our work has always leaned into health advocacy. How would you advise us to utilise our local and international network and resources, to increase the impact of our work?
Dr. Fung: I think that aside from medical advocacy work, one thing to consider is adding a volunteer or service component to what you do in order to reach and help a wider audience, for example through working with currently practising doctors to help with medical checkups.
Charlotte: Thank you very much for agreeing to speak with me today, Dr. Fung.
Dr. Fung: Thank you for having me, I always enjoying catching up with fellow AMSA-nians.