Faces of U of T Medicine: Jeffrey Wong

Nov 20, 2014
Suniya Kukaswadia

What’s it like to participate in a global health project abroad? MD student Jeffrey Wong spent this past summer working with expectant mothers in Zambia. He spoke to writer Suniya Kukaswadia about his experience.

Jeff Wong1

Name: Jeffrey Wong

Program/year: Second year MD student

Role/position: Participant in the 2014 International Health Summer Research Program

Tell us about your work with the International Health Summer Research Program.
I went to Zambia this past summer to take part in a project involving pregnant women, some of whom were HIV-positive. The research was part of a longer-term initiative that looked at the effects of antiretroviral medications. I worked closely with nurses, midwives, physicians and staff from the University of Zambia to recruit women for the study, as well as design questionnaires and databases. I was also able to connect with the local Ministry of Health and clinic administrative staff to better understand the procedures necessary for initiating a research study in this setting. I keep in touch with the team in Zambia who say the data collection is going really well.

What inspired you to go to Zambia?
It was the perfect opportunity for me to further explore my interest in global health, particularly in the areas of research and clinical work. I wanted to better understand how research is conducted in a developing nation and the dynamics of a long-term global health research partnership.

What did you find most exciting about your time there?
I really enjoyed shadowing health professionals in clinics and during surgeries at the academic hospital. The experience helped me understand what it’s like to do clinical work in a lower resource setting. I realized just how important history taking and physical examinations were in a place where costly diagnostic tools aren’t readily available. Sometimes medical students forget to appreciate certain clinical skills because we have diagnostic tools to help us rule in/out conditions. I learned a lot of useful skills from the Zambian physicians.

I also got to discover Zambia’s beautiful culture. I really enjoyed exploring the vibrant city of Lusaka and bartering in my limited Bemba and Nyanja — Zambia’s two main languages. The Lusaka National Museum and annual agricultural fairs were a lot of fun. I was even able to visit Victoria Falls to experience “the smoke that thunders,” one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

What did you hope to accomplish during your time in Zambia?
I wanted to assist in a project that really changed patients’ lives. Women who participated in previous stages of the project would drop by the clinic to show their gratitude for the team’s help—it was really rewarding.  Past research had helped reduce mother-to-baby HIV transmission rates.

I also wanted to see how I could incorporate global health research into my future career. The experience helped guide my focus towards global health. I plan on participating in global health electives during my clerkship so I can better appreciate a clinician’s role in low-resource settings.

What's your favourite thing about the Faculty of Medicine?

There are so many opportunities here. Whether you’re interested in a rural clinical experience, cutting-edge basic science research or global health opportunities, the Faculty has resources to achieve your goals.  I wouldn’t have been able to go to Zambia if it weren’t for the International Health Summer Research Program.

Photo: University of Toronto students (Jeffrey Wong and Ashley Raeside) with Office Staff at the Department of Pediatrics at the University Teaching Hospital

Learn what are students are up to inside and outside of the classroom with Faces of U of T Medicine. From advising political leaders to providing care to Toronto’s most vulnerable populations, our students are making an impact on communities at home and around the world.

Do you have an interesting story to share? Contact Suniya Kukaswadia at suniya.kukaswadia@utoronto.ca


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