A stalwart on Hong Kong’s charity circuit, Dr Kevin Lau, founder of Trinity Medical Centre, maintains hospitals need to be more hospitable, and expounds on the importance of helping those less fortunate…
What are the most important things you remember from your early years?
Well, I was born in Hong Kong, but my family emigrated to Canada when I was just seven years old, which is really where I grew up. It was another seven years before we returned to Hong Kong, allowing me to complete my education at Island School. I then enrolled to study medicine at HKU, subsequently completing my Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme there, before moving on to become a specialist in radiology.
Had the medical profession always beckoned?
To be honest, I didn’t grow up thinking I was destined to be a doctor. In fact, I was open-minded as to what I might do and keen to explore different paths. In the summer prior to my last year at high school, it was my mother who steered me toward medicine, suggesting that I became a volunteer at the Queen Mary Hospital. That proved a life-changing experience.
Up until then, as I’d come from a fairly privileged background, I’d rarely interacted with doctors and hardly at all with patients, so spending time at a hospital gave me an entirely new outlook on life. One patient that I became particularly close to was suffering from end-stage renal failure and had to have dialysis constantly. For me, it was a real eye-opener to talk to someone with such a chronic illness, to witness their emotions and to come to understand their needs at such proximity. It made me realise that being a doctor wasn’t just about prescribing medicine or specifying treatment. No, instead it was about making very real human connections and demonstrating the kind of empathy that can make a world of difference. It was that realisation that, ultimately, led to my decision to become a doctor.
What made radiology stand out as your preferred specialty?
I’ve always been influenced by the many great teachers I’ve met along the way and, in particular, I really looked up to my radiology professors at HKU. While they were incredibly giving towards their patients, they were equally dedicated and committed when it came to their research responsibilities. I also found that I preferred seeing one patient through the whole course of their treatment, which was, again, something that radiology facilitated.
You now run your own practice…
Yes – the Trinity Medical Centre, which I launched with my partner back in 2016. Given my specialty in radiology, we initially set up as an imaging service centre. Over the years, though, we’ve also established a dedicated medical unit that services insurance companies with regard to policy application check-ups, while undertaking a number of general lab procedures, such as genetic tests and health check-ups.
From our point of view, while medical and professional standards are typically very high in Hong Kong, there are often shortcomings in terms of how people are treated on a personal level. As a result, we are always at pains to deliver more empathy and compassion when dealing with patients. From the very beginning, that’s what my partner and I wanted Trinity to become synonymous with. It was always our aim to offer the highest level of professional medical services, while maintaining a five-star hospitality feel.
It’s an approach that’s been pretty well-received, so much so that we’ve expanded. Not only have we doubled the space we occupy in Central Building, we also opened a separate medical centre in Tsim Sha Tsui two years ago.
Overall, how do you feel Hong Kong’s medical sector compares to others around the world?
Well, Hong Kong spends roughly three to four percent of its annual GDP on the city’s medical needs. Bearing that in mind, we have achieved some pretty amazing things. Let’s look at one obvious metric – life expectancy. People in Hong Kong, on average, live longer than people anywhere else in the world – and that’s something we should all be very proud of.
Another significant statistic relates to our high cancer survival rates, something that medical professionals associate with the quality of a city’s healthcare system. While there are still aspects of our system that could be improved, I think we should still be proud of what we have achieved.
On a more personal note, what has been the most rewarding thing for you career-wise?
Every time someone comes in for a regular scan and we manage to detect cancer at an early stage, that’s hugely gratifying. This is particularly the case with something like lung cancer. If we can catch it at an early enough stage, there are a wide range of very effective medical options on offer.
In addition to that, there are occasions when our work has clearly improved the everyday lives of patients. I took part in research, for instance, into the use of MRIs to help diagnose breast cancer. This showed that, ultimately, MRIs were a highly accurate non-invasive way of determining whether complete mastectomies were required or whether breast conservation surgery remained an option.
You are famously committed to giving back to society. Where do you think that compulsion stems from?
I think it’s something that dates back to when I was at Island School. It was an international school, so we were all aware that we were quite privileged and I distinctly remember the vice-principal always reminding us just how fortunate we were. That kind of privilege, though, brings with it responsibility and an obligation to help those less fortunate. And, as you achieve more in your life, that responsibility also increases proportionately.
Which causes are currently particularly close to your heart?
Anything relating to healthcare in general and children in particular has always been important to me. Having said that, the one cause that most people associate me with is the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity I’ve been involved with since my university days. I first signed up as a volunteer and was later appointed to the board here in Hong Kong. In 2012, I was then asked to take over as chair, something that I continued to do until 2018. Locally, I now serve as an honorary advisor and, in 2019, I was invited to join the Foundation’s international board, which has seen me heavily involved in the plans for its 40th anniversary celebrations later this year.
As well as your private charity work, you’re also involved with several government bodies…
Yes, for one, I’m on the board of the Children Development Fund, a government charity that helps low-income families by providing mentorship programmes and work experience for young people. Caring for the elderly is another cause close to my heart and, in line with that, I’m a member of the Industry Training Advisory Committee for Elderly Care Services. There really isn’t enough focus on geriatric care in Hong Kong and, with our increasingly ageing population, this really needs to be a priority. The biggest challenge is just how difficult it is to recruit and train enough people and that’s now the Committee’s primary objective.
Given all your varied commitments, do you actually find any time to relax?
Well, as I have three young children, I like to spend as much of my free time at home as I possibly can. My wife and I also encourage each other to take some time out for ourselves, which I think is hugely important, as it gives us the support we need to fulfil all our varied responsibilities.
Text: Tenzing Thondup
Photos: Jack Law
Art Direction: San Wong
Venue: Director Suite @ The Langham, Hong Kong