Dr. Roger Wong: UBC Medicine’s EA Dean On How To Pivot During Covid-19

By Raiden Huang

Ask Dr. Roger Wong to talk about his rise to eminence in the medical field and the world renowned geriatric leader goes on to do so with a nod of appreciation for his faculty colleagues and students. 

“As the only medical school in the province of British Columbia, we actually have a social responsibility and accountability to our patients and communities,” says Dr. Wong when asked what role the UBC’s Faculty of Medicine has been playing amidst this crisis. 

Ranging from directly supporting the frontline and clinical health professionals, many of the UBC medical students alongside faculty members and medical residents have stepped up to the plate when their name was called. Staffing call centers and hotlines, select students have even assisted in contact tracing individuals that have been diagnosed and tested positive for COVID-19. 

The educational processes pertaining to medicine have now been changed. Not only has it gone online but students now have the opportunity to really contribute in different ways to support the public health efforts of managing the pandemic. “It’s real-time learning and the real-time application of learning as they are making a difference,” states Dr. Wong.

“These kinds of works are a highlight of some of the leadership roles UBC has taken but it doesn’t stop there. Plenty of researchers have focused their research on COVID-19 related research,” the now latest addition to the Government of Canada’s Task Force on Long-Term Care Dr. Wong smiles in thought Wednesday morning. 

“It is going to be here for a while,” states Dr. Wong. He continues, “until a discovery that is safe and effective in protecting us against COVID-19, many of the public health measures such as physical distancing are likely here to stay.” Dr. Wong continues, “a lot of researchers in the science and medical field have been working flat out ever since the pandemic outbreak started.”

In a time where we need one another more than ever, Dr. Wong has made it clear physical distancing does not mean social isolation. This applies to seniors who are most at risk to this virus. Although physical distancing is a way of protecting seniors from getting the virus, one of the unintended consequences can be social isolation and loneliness. “Individuals who are continuously lonely and socially isolated are more prone to develop anxiety and other mental health conditions. This is especially tough with seniors that live with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.” Dr. Wong continues to say, “there is a clear connection between social isolation and loneliness and then negative health outcomes associated with it such as strokes, heart diseases, and even death. There’s a US research study in psychology that talks about how the impact of loneliness on seniors is almost like smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day. That can shave their life expectancy of up to 8 years which is a huge effect,” adds Dr. Wong. 

When physical distancing requires in-person contact limitations, there can be huge detriments to their overall wellbeing. “An initiative we are launching is called Connecting with Compassion. We are using technology to connect seniors in long-term care homes to their loved ones and the outside world,” smiles Dr. Wong. “Social connectivity and continually engaging seniors during this time is so important.”

When asked why leading compassionately is so important, Dr. Wong says, “we have learned that data and science are really important but at the same time, compassion is also very important as we deal with this pandemic,” says Dr. Wong.  “We have to connect through compassion to connect with compassion. When we are driven by compassion, we can do anything.”

Despite the physical and psychological burdens COVID-19 has brought upon us, when asked how this crisis will change the future landscape of things, Dr. Wong beams with hope stating “many of the things in terms of adaptations during COVID-19 may continue to stay after it is over. It may be even a part of what we describe as the new normal. Many of the things we’ve learned from COVID-19 can come out quite positive.” An example Dr. Wong gave was the use of virtual care. Here he states, “health professionals will now be able to leverage on technology and do things they never even thought about. When virtual care becomes a cornerstone of the delivery of healthcare, there will be major implications for communities that have troubles accessing these services.” 

It appears whatever new normal state we enter post-pandemic is going to be a very different yet fruitful future. 

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