Photo contributed by: Julienne Keong Si Ying
For Duke-NUS Medical School students Low Zhen Luan and Julienne Keong Si Ying, the opportunity to pursue global health research projects as part of their post-graduate degree came to them entirely by chance. Joining their classmates in a meeting about available research avenues for students under the Surgery Academic Clinical Programme in 2019, a conversation with Clinical Associate Professor Tan Hiang Khoon sparked an unexpected chain of events that saw Zhen Luan and Julienne set out to Sri Lanka in pursuit of their respective research projects. Two years later and with only a few months to go until their graduation from Duke-NUS Medical School, both of their manuscripts are now being published.
Zhen Luan's manuscript 'Improvement in quality of life with treatment of chronic venous disease: A longitudinal observational study in Kandy, Sri Lanka' was published in Phlebology: The Journal of Venous Disease this February. While she studied the treatment of chronic venous disease in the local population, her counterpart Julienne examined the quality of life of patients receiving treatment for haemorrhoids. British Journal of Surgery Open has confirmed the upcoming publication of Julienne's manuscript 'Improvement in quality of life among Sri Lankan patients with haemorrhoids after invasive treatment: A longitudinal observational study in Kandy, Sri Lanka'. Both of these illnesses were identified by the students' Sri Lankan mentors as diseases the local population suffers disproportionately from.
The two students were able to utilise the recently launched SDGHI student research travel grant (also supported by the AM Ethos Duke-NUS Medical School Fellowship Grant) to support their global health research, and were the first students to successfully do so. Their projects were further made possible by the network of SingHealth's International Collaboration Office (ICO), which facilitated the connection with Teaching Hospital Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, where the studies took place under the mentorship of Professor Tan Hiang Khoon and Professor Truls Ostbye. Following an immersive few months of data collection and a host of unique learning experiences in Sri Lanka, both students were appreciative and reflective of the opportunity.
For Zhen Luan, her key takeaways included being exposed to another healthcare system and observing how interactions with patients and use of available resources in the public health system differed from her experiences in Singapore. "This project allowed us to travel extensively in Sri Lanka and get to know the culture quite well, which is something I definitely gained compared to my classmates who did projects in Singapore, and I'm very thankful for the opportunity. I thought it was a really good experience", she added.
Julienne shared that the experience taught her to be flexible, patient, and adaptable to changing situations. Reflecting that she would definitely be interested in doing more global health projects in the future, she elaborated that "sometimes global health can seem like it's a one-way thing, where it seems it's just one country trying to help the other. But there are a lot of things we can learn by going there as well, from seeing the types of patients that are on the ground and how they interact with doctors, and how the doctors practice their medicine. Also, in a global health project like this, learning to be adaptable is really important - things and conditions on the ground are always changing."
Students interested to pursue global health projects as part of their studies can contact SDGHI at firstname.lastname@example.org for further discussion.