Mr Pro-Chancellor, President Mathieson, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
On behalf of my fellow honorary graduates, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the university for conferring honorary degrees on us and for Professor Wilkinson's generous citations. I would also like to thank the University for asking me to speak on behalf of Dr the Hon Li Dak Sum and Ms Bow Sui May.
While the three of us arrived here today through very different paths, we share a common goal - equip the next generation with skills they need to succeed so they can contribute to the society.
Dr Li is honoured today because of his generous support of education both in Hong Kong and in China. His recent donation to three universities in Hong Kong including the University of Hong Kong to provide scholarships to outstanding students with financial needs will help them complete the high quality education they need to succeed so they can apply their talents to benefit the society.
Ms Bow dedicated her life to the education of deaf children. At the time when Ms Bow started, children with hearing impairment had no access to formal education. Through decades of hard work, perseverance and unwavering dedication, she has made it possible for deaf children in Hong Kong to receive formal education providing them with the skills to secure jobs and to become independent. To ensure as many deaf children can benefit from her visions, not just in Hong Kong but also in the region, she established degree courses to train others who share in her cause. After she 'retired' Ms Bow continued her work in Mainland China enabling thousands of deaf students to receive formal education.
Compared to my fellow graduates, my contribution is on a much smaller scale. As a medical school faculty, I have a tripartite mission - education, research, and patient care. In this era where academic success is largely judged by research grant funding, publications and discoveries, education seldom gets the attention it deserves. This is even more difficult for faculty working in clinical departments where taking care of sick patients in a timely fashion has precedence over both research and teaching. How then can I claim that I share the same goal and walk the same path as Dr Li and Ms Bow?
When I ask myself what got me to this podium today, I have to credit the education I received in Hong Kong. My years at Sacred Heart from kindergarten through high school taught me discipline and hard work, and proficiency in English - the universal language in science and medicine. My two years at King's taught me science and how to thrive as the odd person out - a skill that came in handy when I moved to the US. At the University of Hong Kong, I learned not just medicine and science but also compassionate care. The education and mentoring I received as a student and as a faculty at the university provided the solid foundation that allowed me to contribute to new knowledge in liver diseases, to alleviate sufferings of patients, and to share my knowledge and experience with colleagues and trainees worldwide, for that I am forever grateful.
When people ask what led me to specialise in liver diseases, I have to admit that hepatology was not my initial choice but like many things in life, our plans are often re-directed because of new opportunities or because we are turned on by someone who inspired us. In my case, my first rotation as a medical resident was gastroenterology which included liver diseases. I had the fortune of working with two inspiring teachers, Dr KC Lam and the late Professor Rudi Schmid who was a visiting professor from University of California in San Francisco. Both of them asked a lot of questions during ward rounds and challenged me to think, read, and come up with answers. I quickly realised it wasn't just me but no one had answers to many of those questions at that time and research is needed to provide answers and solutions for our patients.
I was very fortunate that the University of Hong Kong sponsored my fellowship training with the late Dame Sheila Sherlock in London - one of the founders of our specialty. Through Dame Sheila, I learned not only the fundamentals of research and the management of patients with complicated liver problems but also how to be a mentor and a leader. While I take great pride in having published more than twenty papers during my two-year fellowship, my greatest gain was enrollment into the Sherlock Liver Family. This network of more than 200 former trainees spread all over the world has in turn trained thousands of hepatologists and researchers. For patients with liver diseases, one person led to many new discoveries and millions of lives saved.
When I returned to the University of Hong Kong in Dec 1983, the clinical workload was so busy and the resources available for research so limited, I had doubts whether I can continue to conduct meaningful research. Professor David Todd and Professor Rosie Young, both of whom are here today, showed me through their examples how to juggle conflicting demands on our time and to use our limited resources efficiently. Their dedication to the training of physicians in Hong Kong has benefited many of us in the room today and I hope we have done you proud.
I began my research career studying hepatitis B which was and still is a major health problem worldwide and more so in Asia. As a physician, we take great comfort knowing that we help alleviate sufferings of our patients, one at a time. As a researcher, we have the potential to impact the lives of thousands and millions of patients at the same time.
After eight years on faculty at the university, I was ready for more challenges and made a bold move - some called that a professional suicide - to the US. Many had cautioned that hepatitis B is a rare problem in the US and with the availability of an effective vaccine, hepatitis B will soon be history and if I want to maintain a successful academic career, I should switch to other topics. Choosing a research focus is based not just on scientific and clinical significance, or what is hot and easy to sell, but also on one's passion for the subject. I stuck with hepatitis B because it is a complex disease that offers intellectual challenges but also because I can't forget the faces of hundreds and thousands of patients and families devastated by this disease. I feel morally obligated to work on improving our understanding of a disease that is prevalent in Asia but often forgotten in western countries. I cannot claim that I have made any ground breaking discoveries or found a cure for hepatitis B but looking back at the progress made in the last three decades, I am pleased that I left a mark here and there.
Along the way, many residents, fellows and junior faculty from different parts of the world have contributed to the work. Research is a team effort that has no geographical boundaries. Although many of the trainees have no prior research experience and often one or at most two years' time to finish a project, being able to turn them on and seeing their joy when the results of the project added one small piece to the puzzle and their hard work accepted for publication are the most satisfying moments in my career.
As a single person, I consider my mentees my 'children' and have nurtured and showered them with unconditional love just like any biologic parent would. From time to time, my mentees would ask how they can ever pay me back. My response is - I am able to help you now because someone helped me in the past. I cannot pay my teachers back nor do they expect any pay back; instead I am paying it forward, passing on my knowledge and experience to help you succeed so you can in turn pass that along to the next generation. I am pleased to say many of my mentees have become leaders in their own rights and are indeed fostering another generation of physicians and researchers - these are my 'grandchildren'. Collectively, we will bring a cure for hepatitis B closer to reality.
In closing, on behalf of my fellow graduates, I want to thank the University again, for conferring an honorary degree - the highest honour on us. Our journey to this podium today demonstrates that the world is a better place when we all pay forward and equip our next generation with the skills they need to succeed. I want to finish by thanking my teachers, colleagues and mentees for enriching my academic journey and my friends and family for their support throughout the years.