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At the intersection of entrepreneurship & medicine: responding to COVID-19 with Geoffrey Ching

From evolution: a podcast by entrepreneurship@UBC

evolution is a podcast shining light on our ecosystem’s stories of innovation, impact and hustle throughout their venture building journey. Join us as we build community and knowledge related to entrepreneurship during the course of COVID-19.

This week, host and entrepreneurship@UBC’s Creative Specialist MJ Araujo speaks with Geoffrey Ching, a UBC med student and one of the founders of the BC Student Medical Service Response team, a medical student-led initiative to support BC physicians and Public Health Authorities in their efforts against COVID-19.

About Geoffrey Ching

Geoffrey Ching is a 3rd year UBC medical student who has worked with his medical school classmates to serve frontline workers, the public health response, and the community as part of the BC Medical Student Response Team. In addition to research foci in cornea, medical simulation, and teleophthalmology, he focuses much of his non-medical work in the angel investing space. He is currently the Vancouver chapter lead for Hatching Health, a by-physician angel for-physician angel investment network, and works concurrently with VANTEC, a BC-based angel investment network, to improve presenting company and angel investor experiences. In addition, he is currently involved in a digital teleophthalmology startup, Augos, and a digital medical education startup, CyberPatient, that has reached medical schools worldwide.

Listen to our third episode of evolution.

To read a full transcript, see below:


MJ: Hello, welcome to entrepreneurship@UBC’s podcast evolution. I'm your host MJ.

Geoffrey, it's so nice for you to join us today. Can you tell us more about your background and your connection to UBC?

Geoffrey: I've gone to UBC my entire post secondary career. With relation to the medical student response team, it's not officially associated with the Faculty of Medicine. We're all from different years of medicine, year 1 to 4. There are a whole bunch of student groups that really came together organically. So, there were different groups in Vancouver, Prince George, the Island and Kelowna that wanted to start their own projects because they wanted to help. Overall, we coalesced into an organization to allow for more efficient management of resources and to ensure that we could get help where it was needed the most.

MJ: That's awesome. So tell me more about what it's like to be a medical student at UBC?

Geoffrey: Really, I think we're blessed to be in this province. Really. It's been amazing to have the backing of faculty here and all my amazing classmates who are so very gifted in different ways.

MJ: As a medicine student, what was your initial response to the outbreak when it was announced and how has it affected you on an individual level?

Geoffrey: Realizing that my classes or my clinical rotations that I was on were canceled, meant that I had no significant structure to my days anymore. Normally, I would wake up in the mornings, get ready and go to clinic, come back home and study, go to sleep, and that would be the same pattern over and over and over again for the next year and a half, basically. But when COVID hit, it really threw a wrench in things, this was going to last a little while and I wanted to help. Mainly because I'd come into this profession with the desire to help others and I'm sure that my medical student colleagues did as well. It is really amazing that there are so many different initiatives and that we were able to bring everyone together to help where it was needed the most.

MJ: When did you know you wanted to be a doctor and what are some of your future plans for your career?

Geoffrey: I've liked medicine ever since I was a kid. I think that quite a few of my friends can definitely attest to that. It's been an ongoing theme. But I think that's not how everyone necessarily approached it. Some develop the passion later in life and each path is pretty unique. In terms of future plans, I’ve had interests varying from ophthalmology to emergency medicine, mainly because those are two really exciting fields, one being more niche than the other. But both involve in the future the opportunity to work in an entrepreneurial manner, creating technologies that could help serve others better. I know one of my friends is doing amazing work helping to bring one of these technologies to life at the Hatching Health Group. I'm sure that a lot of my colleagues, no matter which discipline they choose to go into, will similarly have amazing impacts both in and outside of clinic.

“I’ve had interests varying from ophthalmology to emergency medicine...both involve in the future the opportunity to work in an entrepreneurial manner, creating technologies that could help serve others better.”

MJ: I find it quite interesting how you keep bringing back entrepreneurship and that entrepreneurial energy. People might not link medicine and entrepreneurship right away, but they're actually so connected to each other. Could you speak more as to how you view that mindset in your specific discipline?

Geoffrey: For me, I think it's important to define what entrepreneurship is first, right? I think it's being able to recognize that there is an issue at hand that needs to be solved, and that there's a way to mobilize action to solve the issue at hand.

Entrepreneurship is often associated with finance and startups in people's heads. To me, it is just the natural creative energy of being able to recognize there's an issue. Let's solve it. I think there are so many different diseases and issues with different healthcare systems that create inequities in delivery of care, to different groups. And all systems are imperfect in their ability to treat everyone to different extents. So to me, entrepreneurship in medicine is the ability to work with different health disciplines in order to gain a wide variety of perspectives as to what the problems are, and from there to identify how we can solve the problems. It is a really rigorous way to go about things. I see entrepreneurship, not in the financial sense but in the sense of finding problems and being willing to help and taking action to help, in my classmates everyday and it really inspires me.

So to me, entrepreneurship in medicine is the ability to work with different health disciplines in order to gain a wide variety of perspectives as to what the problems are, and from there to identify how we can solve the problems.”

MJ: You make a good point: at its core, entrepreneurship is essentially solving a problem. So I want to look back to the BC medical student response team that you're a part of to hear more about what activities the team is doing to support frontline health care workers and the community at large.

Geoffrey: There are a whole variety of activities that we've worked on, with a whole variety of medical students and organizations to match students with. These include physician and nursing support, including childcare, which is so very important because if you can't have your child taken care of, you're not going to work. Let's face it.

Then there's also contact tracing to make sure that we can support public health efforts, along with educational centres. So, the 811 call centre where our students help man the phones.

We spearheaded efforts in collecting PPE to support our frontline workers, among other call centers and other public health efforts. We also work with trying to support older adults and vulnerable populations.

MJ: That's great to hear the diverse range of support that you're providing. What do you think this situation and the work that you're doing is teaching you and your fellow classmates from a medicine career standpoint?

Geoffrey: First of all, we’ve engaged and reached out to a whole variety of our related health care provider students, so nursing, pharmacy, public health, dentistry, midwifery and OT. It’s really emphasized to us that there are different skills that each of our different specialties offers that will empower us to change the future of healthcare. I think this plays along with one of the my frustrations with the healthcare system and frustrations that many may share: a lot of health is very, very siloed and I think that's one of the things that we need to break down as the coming generation of healthcare workers to ensure that we can be more entrepreneurial in how we solve and identify problems.

The second thing that this circumstance that has made me realize is that the work that frontline workers do is often undervalued. In this time, it's important to recognize that health care workers really are certainly very important in this time of crisis, and that we as a community can do a lot to support them.

“A lot of health is very, very siloed and I think that's one of the things that we need to break down as the coming generation of healthcare workers to ensure that we can be more entrepreneurial in how we solve and identify problems.”

MJ: Moments of crisis can be so instrumental in changing systems because that's when things are shaken up, and there's the opportunity to make drastic change. I'm wondering why do you think it's so important to react and to react as fast as you did?

Geoffrey: It’s important to react to make sure that we're able to support our public health efforts, our frontline workers and our community. But it's important to be proactive as well, to make sure that we can identify the gaps in the healthcare system and the community where people are susceptible. So that we can begin to support the efforts to minimize harm to those who are vulnerable, and to those who need help. That's why I prefer that while we have reacted and why it's important to react. Now, we have also been proactive in terms of trying to manage any of the issues that have come forward.

MJ: What are some of the challenges that you've faced so far as a team when assembling the BC medical student response team?

Geoffrey: The challenges that we face so far have included working at a fast enough pace to engage all the medical students. There are a lot of us and it's difficult to build up the administrative firepower necessary to engage all who volunteered as quickly as possible. We've now had 100 positions filled by over 350 students. That in itself took a lot of work. Finding ways to streamline that has been particularly difficult. Making sure that all of our volunteers are recognized and that we incorporate new projects and criticisms. That in itself is important and has been difficult to incorporate and is something that we've worked on consistently.

MJ: What would you like to tell our audience about how they can support this initiative?

Geoffrey: There are a whole variety of ways in which the audience can support our initiative. Number one is to obviously practice social distancing, to make sure that we can get this thing over with to make sure that we keep everyone who's vulnerable, as healthy as possible. Beyond that, we're raising efforts with the Canadian Blood Services to ensure that there's a steady supply of blood, which is just as needed in these times as it was before.

In addition, we're gathering PPE for our frontline workers, so any support there. If any students or faculty have any family who works in nail salons, for example, have any PPE at hand, it'd be great to reach out to our team so that we get a hold of it so that our frontline workers can be well protected.

We've been working on a 3D printing project as well to rapidly identify solutions that could help our frontline workers and to assess whether or not there's validity to them. So any labs which would be willing to reach out who have 3D printers of all shapes and sizes, we'd love to work with you.

Lastly, if you want to learn more you can always check out our twitter at COVID19_BCmed.

MJ: This all seems great. It’s impressive how quickly you've managed to come together and provide support. I'm really thankful for your time and for informing us about this initiative.

Geoffrey: I want to thank you for the opportunity to share the ways in which people can help. I really want to make sure that we can thank all of the medical student colleagues that I've had who've reached out and all the community members and associate healthcare workers, healthcare workers and students who've reached out as well. Without them, there would be nothing going on. So I think the onus is on them and that they’ve really shined at this point in time.

MJ: If you want to learn more, you can follow the BC med student response on Twitter at COVID19_BCmed. They now have also launched a website at COVID-19 Meds.

Thank you for joining us and we hope to see you next time. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.

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