From Journalism to Medicine

“Could you tell me the reasons behind your interesting, meandering path from journalism to medicine?”

Margaret Wong 2

Dr Margaret Wong Man-Yee

This is a question that JMSC Master of Journalism alumnus, Wong Man-Yee, has heard a thousand times.

A graduate of the first ever MJ course in 2001, she has now graduated again with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at HKU. Her third degree in fact, as she received a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies in 1998.

“The questions keep appearing from one interview to another. They aren’t difficult questions to answer – for I have been asking myself some of these questions long before I entered medical school.”

Man-Yee took architecture after high school and became an architectural assistant in Hong Kong after she graduated for the first time. However, the “sad state of architecture” in the city made her keen to go and work abroad.

With this in mind, she took a writing job at Hinge Magazine, a monthly architectural magazine, to earn some extra cash. At the same time, she decided to polish up her English by signing up to the MJ course at the then newly opened JMSC.

“I was the youngest student on the course and surrounded by people who were bureau chiefs, serious writers and journalists. While I took the course to improve my English, it soon became clear I was being turned into a proper journalist.”

To further fund the MJ course, which she was doing part-time over the course of two years, and to save for her plans of continuing life as an architect abroad, she applied for various reporting jobs at major news agencies here in Hong Kong. The Associated Press (AP) took her on as a reporter and she wrote for them while also studying at the JMSC. She kept this job after graduation from the JMSC and worked her way up to Acting News Editor.

While reporting for AP, the respiratory disease SARS hit the headlines. Man-Yee says the deadly outbreak tested her journalism to the limits.

“I had an O-level in biology. My editor asked me to write about the mutation of SARS and to explain what it meant in layman terms. I was stumped.”

Around the same time, Man-Yee lost her father and her grandmother, and started to question her knowledge of her body and how it works.

She wanted to be able to bridge the divide between journalism and medicine but there were no courses offered in Hong Kong at the time to help in this pursuit. So, she decided there was nothing for it but to go back to university a third time and study medicine.

Her application letter to HKU’s Faculty of Medicine was persuasive. She wrote:

“The SARS crisis sent me a wake-up call: Medicine is something so important and close to everyone, but what I know about medicine is so limited. I can’t just keep letting myself write about something I know so little about; I can’t continue being just a bystander.”

Five years later and Man-yee is finally finishing her medical rotation and is about to take on a full time role as a medic.

The skills she learnt at the JMSC will not go to waste: she plans to write for medical journals, a book about her houseman experience and to help in sharing sessions for journalism students.

“It’s my hope to help bridge the gap between the mass media, the public and the medical profession. It will take some time to improve this relationship but the JMSC is working hard on it with Thomas Abraham’s course Reporting Health and Medicine. The JMSC inspired me and broadened my horizon. Without that horizon, I wouldn’t have seen the need for good medical writing and I wouldn’t have gone back to medical school.”