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  • Nicole Wong Doo

    Posted on 25th January 2015 by Global Health Gateway in

    Nicole Wong Doo is a Haematologist, currently working at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute in Melbourne. During her training in Internal Medicine, Nicole took time out to work in the Northern Territory, as well as to travel. After completing Haematology training at Prince of Wales and Royal Prince Alfred hospitals, Nicole volunteered with Australian Volunteers International at the Mae Tao Clinic on the Thai/Burma border in 2009. Her primary focus at the clinic was on training, curriculum development, quality improvement, blood transfusion safety and laboratory diagnostics.

     GHG: Tell us about yourself. 

    I went to school and university in Sydney. My first experience living away from Sydney wasn’t until age 24 when I moved all of 80km to Wollongong. Since then, aside from travel, I have lived in Darwin, Thailand and now Melbourne.  I’m a Haematologist – a doctor specialising in blood diseases. It’s not the first specialty most people associate with global health because most treatments for blood cancers are very expensive and in limited availability in developing countries. However I was always given the advice to choose a career that you love and hopefully the rest will follow. In haematology, I am able to work in cancer medicine which I have always enjoyed, but an added benefit is the laboratory training which is a really useful skill in developing countries. The same is true among almost all specialties or in general practice – all areas of medicine are applicable to global health. This was particularly highlighted by the UN General Assembly meeting on non-communicable diseases this  year. 

    GHG: Can you tell us about a seminal experience in your career? 

    Too many to name; but the most simple is hearing my first ever talk from a Medicins Sans Frontier volunteer at an information session and thinking ‘maybe I could do something like that’.

    GHG: Can you tell us a little about the Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao Clinic, and how you came to be involved?

    The Mae Tao clinic was created by Dr Cynthia in reaction to an emergency situation, with students and other persecuted people fleeing from active conflict. As such, it was risky, physically dangerous and plans were made on the run – the clinic was initially set up on the Burma side of the border however the threat of fighting convinced them to set up in Thailand. 20 years later it has morphed into a clinic providing primary health care, community medicine, health training and public health initiatives – a very different brief to during its inception when the primary injuries were from land mine victims. The attraction of the clinic is that it is staffed by local Burmese and Karen people who are dedicated to providing health care to their own community. Their dedication, with ongoing funding, has made it a sustainable project. I became involved through Australian Volunteers International, to help add to their training program.

    I was excited as I was the first funded doctor to go with Australian Volunteers, and hoped that if my project went well AVI and the clinic would continue to be long-term collaborators in the field of medical education and supervision. 

    GHG: Where is the most interesting place you have travelled to?

    From a cultural perspective, spending 3 months in India stimulated more of my senses simultaneously than any other country. It’s exciting, conflicting and constantly challenging. I spent a month in a small hospital in the south which was my first experience of developing world medicine. I absolutely loved the food, rarely became ill and even put on weight with all the curries and kulfi!

    GHG: What’s the most inspiring book you’ve ever read?

    A strange one, because I like quiet books: Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, which he wrote as a young English man travelling around central Australia, listening to Aboriginal dreaming stories and pondering the concept of nomadism. It’s not a heroic book, but it celebrates the rewards of quiet listening and reflection.

    GHG: How do you keep motivated to work in the field of global health?

    It can be difficult as my work at the moment is not directly related to global health. So I try to keep in touch with friends still working in the field and locally – admittedly largely through facebook. There are a few good networks in Sydney such as Global Health Drinks (www.globalhealthdrinks.org) that tries to keep interested people in touch. Luckily, global health is full of passionate people, so it only requires small doses of contact with them to keep motivated!

    GHG: What has been the most challenging cross cultural experience you’ve had? 

    Misunderstanding that foreigners should never, ever eat the salted green chillies on offer on the tables of Indian restaurants in India in a misguided attempt to “blend” in. 

    GHG: Why?

    Because when your mouth is a ball of flames and you are surrounded by curious on-lookers, you cannot very well spit the chilli out on the plate.

    GHG: What global issue currently fires up your passion?

    Too many to name – but currently it has to be the ridiculous hold the investment banks have on our global economy. I believe it has a resulted in  disproportionate influence of economic fluctuations on politics, social policy and the environment.

    GHG: What is the greatest crisis we face as a world?

    That in much of the world, our greatest concern is first and foremost for ourselves and not for others.