She always loved connecting with children.
In Singapore and Taiwan, she taught them English. When she was at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) studying Public Health, she travelled to Kenya to help doctors care for orphaned babies born to HIV-positive mothers.
This passion for children and public health led Dr Gwen Hwarng to pursue a degree at Duke-NUS Medical School in 2014, where she found wonderful mentors who pointed her in the right direction. They not only guided her in the field of medicine, but also opened other doors for her, careerwise.
Touched by their generosity
The first of her research mentors was Associate Professor Yeo Cheo Lian, Senior Consultant Paediatrician at the Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine in Singapore General Hospital.
She was paired with Assoc Prof Yeo during her third year, when she was doing a research project. She had then joined the AM-ETHOS Duke-NUS Medical Student Fellowship, which gave her a clearer idea of what being a doctor meant. The Fellowship is under the Academic Medicine - Enhancing Training, Healthcare, Outcomes and Standards (AM-ETHOS) series of initiatives, developed by the Joint Office of Academic Medicine and supported by Duke-NUS, to build strategic capabilities to transform medicine and improve lives.
Dr Hwarng said that Assoc Prof Yeo deeply inspired her to become an academic clinician like her.
“I saw how she spent time teaching in the classroom, clinics and wards where she interacted with patients. She used her clinical experience to tackle research questions that would make a difference in the real world,” said Dr Hwarng.
She was especially touched when Assoc Prof Yeo helped her identify a pertinent research question and roped in two other mentors from her department, Dr Selina Ho and Dr Imelda Ereno, to guide her on her project. In addition, Duke-NUS faculty member, Assistant Professor John Allen, a biostatistician, also lent his expertise in statistical analysis.
Dr Hwarng was also allowed to observe her mentors during their ward rounds and patient consultations. She said, “I wouldn’t have been able to complete this project on my own without my mentors’ foresight and clinical experience. And they’ve cared about my education beyond the project itself.”
Her project, titled “Accuracy of Parent-Reported Ages and Stages Questionnaire in Assessing the Developmental Outcome of Preterm Infants”, evaluates the ability of parents to assess their baby’s developmental milestones.
All four mentors showed up on Research Day to support Dr Hwarng's presentation. “Even now, they continue to take an interest in my future. They’ve given me the desire to look out for my juniors,” she said.
Kindling her interest in research
The Fellowship she joined helps medical students, faculty, administrators and staff build strategic capabilities within the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre (AMC) to advance medicine and improve patients' lives.
It supported her financially when she went to Hong Kong in 2017 to present her research findings at the 13th Congress of the Asian Society for Paediatric Research. This allowed her to explore what others were doing in the international field of paediatric research.
Dr Hwarng fondly remembers the camaraderie among students in the Fellowship. “We rehearsed our presentations with one another, refined our slides and posters together, and shared tips on statistics and analysis. I appreciated the beauty of working with others in this community.”
This experience also kindled her interest in research. “I had the chance to see other researchers and clinician scientists at work and how they used their research to improve healthcare for patients.”
Although she would like to focus on teaching and mentorship, she finds that research is becoming increasingly important in the care of her patients. “I won’t rule it out as a potential career path,” she shared.