Doctor spells out vision
Dr Dexter Leung Yu-lung completed his ophthalmic residency at the Hong Kong Eye Hospital in 2004 and, since then, has barely stopped to draw breath. The intervening years have seen him rise to his current position as the hospital’s associate consultant and deputy co-ordinator for glaucoma service, while also contributing to breakthrough research, community initiatives, and winning countless academic and professional awards.
He began his medical studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in 1992 and maintains close links there as a clinical assistant professor with the university’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.
Was medicine always an obvious choice for you?
In fact, I was in the maths stream in secondary school and, for a while, thought computer science would be a good profession. The school motto, though, was “better yourself to help others” and when I started thinking more about life-long goals, it seemed that medicine would be a way to do that.
What else influenced your decision?
Even after starting medical school, I may have had doubts, but that changed the first time I saw a patient dying. At the time, it was a horrific scene, but it later made me realise that I would be in a position to make a real difference by becoming a doctor and that gave me a strong impetus to go on.
Why did you decide to specialise in ophthalmology?
Vision is one of the most important things, since we get around 50 per cent of our information through our sense of sight. Therefore, if people can’t see so well, it directly affects their qualify of life and possibly their mental state also. Besides that, during my studies, I saw the happiness in the faces of people who had their sight restored and the immediate improvement it made. I realised then how much satisfaction there would be in helping others through cataract surgery and better treatment for glaucoma.
How did your years at university shape your outlook?
I was at Shaw College near the top the hill at CUHK and I still remember how, one rainy day, a teacher stopped his car and offered me a lift down to the station. It was only a small incident, but impressed on me what the university stood for in terms of student/ teacher interaction and demonstrating the right attitude in any situation. My classmates and friends in other disciplines felt this was a good disposition to have and it has definitely influenced our careers.
What are the key responsibilities in your current position?
The main thing is to provide clinical service concentrating on glaucoma, which can cause irreversible blindness if not detected and treated in time.
I am also doing a lot of research into normal-tension glaucoma when eye pressure is in the normal range. We are finding new methods of treatment which can be used internationally, so we are doing something that will really, genuinely assist many sufferers around the world.
Do you enjoy the public part of your role?
It is necessary to spread the message via the media about the importance of having regular eye exams after the age of 40 to guard against glaucoma and other problems. Screening patients regularly makes it possible to preserve eye pressure and avoid surgery at a later stage, so we want to make people aware and do what we can to find undiagnosed cases in the community.
How else are you able to make an impact?
Since 2004, I have been helping to run Project Vision, a charity set up to eliminate blindness and alleviate poverty in mainland China. We arrange for trained surgeons to perform up to 30 cataract operations a day and, so far, have restored or improved the sight of more than 50,000 people. We ask those who can afford it to pay in order to subsidise those who cannot. The idea is that this will allow the charity to become self-sustaining, so we can go to more of the mainland’s rural areas where poor people really are poor.
What do you hope to see in young people starting out on their careers?
I always encourage them to put their heart into what they do and make helping others a priority. If you just want to earn lots of money, you won’t go into medicine, but it is important to have goals in life that are not simply selfish. Of course, the younger generation is different because of their upbringing. They are better off than their grandparents, and people say they are egocentric. But in their hearts, they still have the right attitude and want to express this in appropriate ways.