Breaking the Barrier Between Ward and Community: Nurse Fong Po Kei

As a registered nurse working in public hospital, Ms Fong Po Kei (MPH Part-time - Health Promotion and Social Behaviour, Class of 2020) used to be responsible for taking care of her patients day in and day out. Over time, she came to realize that clinical treatment was only scratching the surface of achieving good health; a host of other factors – from lifestyle and family environment to social policy – plays equally, if not more, critical roles as well.

The adage “prevention is better than cure” is exactly what Ms Fong now champions in her work promoting public health education at the Diabetes and Endocrine Research Centre in CUHK. She believes that educating patients creates significant positive impact on community health in the long run, while it also gives her the opportunity to interact with and get to know her patients on a more personal level. The steppingstone of her career change was her enrollment in the Master of Public Health programme at the CUHK Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care in 2018, concentrating in Health Promotion and Social Behaviour. She attended courses in topics ranging from global health and epidemiology to medical sociology and health economics, tackling a steep learning curve that could later open many doors for her as it had previously done for the programme’s alumni.

Ms Fong was particularly keen on learning more about research, so she took a statistics course, which greatly helped her contextualize the journal articles that she read. In addition, many of the programme’s classes were taught by some important figures within the local medical field, such as the ex-Secretary of Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-Kiong, and the ex-Director of the New Territories East Cluster, Dr. Hung Chi-Tim, whose professional expertise provided her with a more comprehensive understanding of Hong Kong’s medical system.

In her second year, Ms Fong became a research assistant for a study of district health centres and their grassroots medical work. It was a role that not only allowed her to apply her theoretical knowledge to practical fieldwork, but most importantly, it also reshaped her view of medical issues from a conservative clinical perspective to a more humanized and sociological one. Through her involvement in a number of community health projects, she came to appreciate the close connection between health and society when she saw how community centres can make use of medical resources to drive health prevention programmes. For instance, interactive, health-conscious interest classes such as gardening were held to teach neighbourhood residents the concept of farm-to-table and wise food choices, thus aiming to gradually transform their health behaviour for the better. “It used to be a top-to-bottom communication from dieticians who disseminated information to the public, but after my course I now know that it’s also possible to change people’s lifestyle habits from bottom-up – I had never considered that health practices could even begin at community centres!”

Ms Fong finds that her biggest takeaway from the programme was her capstone project, the topic of which was “Rethinking Successful Aging from the Psychological Perspective: A Qualitative Study of Young Old Hong Kong Adults”. She was tasked with interviewing 37 young-olds by conducting two-hour surveys with each interviewee, a feat she initially thought would not be possible but eventually accomplished with a great sense of achievement, enjoying herself throughout the process. On top of that, the thesis she wrote was later accepted by the Seventh Pan Pacific Nursing Conference, and she fondly recounts, “As a clinical nurse, I had never even thought I’d be able to participate in scholarly discussions, so receiving this kind of encouragement and recognition was a truly invaluable experience for me.”

The Master of Public Health programme was instrumental to Ms Fong’s successful transfer to the Diabetes and Endocrine Research Centre. To her, the taught courses and research work granted diverse insight into the societal benefits of health education and disease prevention; to the Institute, the degree was an assurance of Ms Fong’s competence in multi-dimensional health promotion work and her ability to come up with innovative ways of transforming people’s behaviour and improving community health.

As a seasoned nurse and now an avid advocate of public health education, Ms Fong deems it essential to have an inquisitive attitude and an open mind at all times in order to really think how best to translate classroom knowledge into real-life applications. “I used to think that research was very removed from me – I was too focused on clinical work and treating patients that I barely had time to give thought to other matters,” said Ms Fong. “It was this course that really opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of issues could also be clinically related, teaching me to ask questions from various perspectives. In Hong Kong, there is much talk of socio-medical cooperation with prevention work starting from the local community level, and I believe this is the long-term direction we’re headed in.”