Dr. Randy Aung, originally from Yangon in Myanmar, is a second year student in the MSc. Community Health and Epidemiology program at Dalhousie University. He is also a member of the Dalhousie Medical School Class of 2014, and began his medical education at the International Medical University (IMU) in Malaysia. During his time as a student at Dalhousie, Randy participated in the Global Health Office Link Program, and acted as an intern at the World Health Organization (WHO). We recently sat down with Randy to learn more about his Dalhousie experience.
What did your internship at WHO this past summer entail, and how did you discover this opportunity?
I was talking to Shawna O’Hearn (the director of the Global Health Office) and she mentioned that there is an opportunity each year for a few Dalhousie students to undertake an internship with WHO. I was interested in building my resume, and she connected me with the organizers. It was an unpaid internship, and although Geneva can be expensive, I think the experience was well worth it. You get to meet so many people from different countries, and also travel on the weekends.
I worked on two main projects with the SAGE (Strategic Advisory Group of Experts) secretariat at the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. The first project involved working with the Wikipedia Medical Director to incorporate all the WHO vaccine recommendations into their respective Wikipedia pages. The other project involved revising the 2015 guideline document for WHO vaccine position papers. For each vaccine-preventable disease, there is a ~30 page position paper where WHO recommendations are published. If a working group needs to prepare a position paper, they have to refer to the guidelines. The whole internship lasted for two and a half months.
How would you describe your experience at Dalhousie and in Halifax?
Halifax is a cool city. Before I moved, I had only lived in big cities like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. When I was Googling it, Halifax seemed to be pretty small…but when I arrived here, I found that there are so many things to do. I really love the snow in the winter, as ridiculous as it may sound! Before I moved I had never seen snow.
The people here are really friendly, especially at Dal. When I was in medical school, everyone was very willing to help and reach out so you can succeed in your career and academic goals. For medical school, Halifax was a big change from Malaysia where I did the first part of my medical school. Malaysia has a completely different healthcare system compared to Canada. During my first clinical rotation, it took a while to get used to these changes. Once I got into my second rotation though, I was more familiar with how things worked in the hospital. I decided to do a Master’s in Community Health & Epidemiology (CH&E) because I didn’t have any undergraduate degree before medical school and I had no previous research experience. Evidence-based medicine is very important. Research studies come out so fast, and there are so many of them. You have to be able to critically appraise which studies are of good quality, and which ones are relevant to the patients you are seeing. CH&E really helped me out with that, and taught me how to appreciate good research.
What are your next steps, now that you are graduating from your Master’s?
I’m moving to New York. I’ll be doing my residency at Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center, which is affiliated with Albert Einstein College of Medicine. My residency in general pediatrics will last 3 years. I haven’t made up my mind on which sub-specialty I want to go into. I may end up staying with general pediatrics, but I am considering pediatric hematology/oncology or pediatric infectious diseases for my fellowship.
What type of research are you conducting for your CH&E Master’s thesis?
I’m working with Dr. Joanne Langley at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology. We are conducting a retrospective cohort study, looking at the incidence and clinical burden of lower respiratory tract infections in immunocompromised children. This involves a retrospective chart review.
Why are you interested in pediatrics?
First of all, I love kids and I love working with kids. You get to work and play at the same time, which is a great career! I find that kids are very resilient, and they really tend to improve after seeing doctors. This is different from some other specialties. Take older adults who present at an Emergency Department with heart failure or COPD. They get treated, but it can often be a cycle [in older patients], where it is difficult to see improvement. But for kids, they often get better, and that’s one of the main things that I love about pediatrics. You can make a very visible difference.
Could you tell us a bit about the Link program, and how it helped you to transition into your clerkship?
The Link program lasts about 3 months (15 weeks) and is designed by the Global Health Office for IMU students. We study for two and half years in Malaysia, then we transfer for third and fourth year at Dalhousie Medical School. The curriculum at IMU versus Dal are a bit different. There are some aspects that are not covered in Malaysia, such as psychiatry and pediatrics. We also didn’t have a lot of clinical experience in our first two years at IMU, whereas at Dalhousie during these years they have clinical experience weekly. The Link program is basically a transition period, where topics like psychiatry and pediatrics are covered, and we get to experience a four-week hospital rotation. We shadow doctors, like Dalhousie students do in the first two years of their medical education. It was a good transition, I couldn’t imagine myself going straight into third year without the Link program. I wouldn’t know what to do! The program also included an introduction to the Canadian healthcare system.
Do you have any advice for incoming IMU students?
One important thing to note is that there is only one province where you can do your residency in Canada after this program – Newfoundland. I would advise IMU students to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) before coming to Dalhousie if you’re interested in doing residency in the US. Clerkship can be busy, and you might not have as much time to study for, and take that exam during this time.
Note: Randy took a break between graduating from medical school and residency, and wrote the exam while studying for his Master’s degree.
Try to be outgoing, and enjoy what Halifax has to offer. The university culture is a bit different. In Malaysia, you don’t usually ask questions when you are face to face with your staff physicians. In Halifax, you are encouraged to talk and ask questions. Even if you don’t know all the answers, don’t be afraid to try and put yourself out there. It will help you grow and learn.
To learn more about the IMU partnership, please watch the Faculty of Medicine’s latest Youtube video (which features Randy at 3:27)!