Joanna Yuet-ling Tung, MBBS, MRCPCH, traveled half way around the world with one goal in mind: to learn how to provide better care for children with endocrine disorders like diabetes, hyperthyroidism and adrenal insufficiency.

She found training and world-class mentors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Dr. Tung, a pediatric specialist at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, is one of five foreign physicians who have benefited from the pilot program at CHOP for international scholars.

Though Dr. Tung has been on her hospital’s pediatric endocrine team since 2008, she did not have access to a structured training program in the specialty until now.

“I wanted to train at CHOP because of the expertise of the faculty, the cutting-edge programs, huge case volume and wide ranges of cases,” says Dr. Tung. “Plus, CHOP is famous for everything!”

About the program

CHOP’s International Scholar Program was started its pilot two years ago under the guidance of Stephen Ludwig, MD, Medical Director of International Medical Education at CHOP. His vision was to create a program for exceptional foreign physicians to receive hands-on training from CHOP’s world-renowned experts in targeted pediatric specialties, and then for the scholars to return home to share that knowledge with their native countries. The program furthers CHOP’s mission to improve care for children around the world.

The program — still in its pilot stage — combines elements of the International Observer Program and traditional fellowship programs. Like a fellowship, foreign physicians accepted to the International Scholar Program work side by side with CHOP physicians and treat patients under the supervision of CHOP doctors. Similar to the International Observer Program, learning is customized to the individual and they must return home after training. The typical term for international scholars is six months to a year.

Individualized training

In September 2015, Dr. Tung began her nine-month training under the guidance of Diana Stanescu, MD, a Pediatric Endocrinologist, and Ignacio Tapia, MD, an Attending Pulmonologist.

For the first couple of weeks, Dr. Tung observed CHOP physicians, fellows and support staff. Then she began rotations similar to other endocrine fellows: treating inpatients on the endocrine floor, consulting on endocrine cases across the hospital, working in the outpatient endocrine clinic, and helping with research projects.

“The life when we were on service could be tough, and the hours long,” says Dr. Tung. ”But everyone — including me — enjoyed the tough, long hours because we felt we were learning every second!”

One of the unique benefits of the International Scholar Program is that it can be customized to meet the individual’s learning goals and objectives.

For Dr. Tung, a focus on the diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents with complex endocrine disorders that may affect other body systems was key. During her time at CHOP, she worked with children with all kinds of endocrine conditions, from common illnesses like diabetes and thyroid conditions, to more complex diseases such as hyperinsulinism, glycogen storage disease and hypopituitarism. The conditions were similar to ones she’d encountered in Hong Kong, but the volume of cases was much greater.

“By taking care of these patients and interacting with the faculty, I understand much more about the pathophysiology and art of managing these conditions,” says Dr. Tung. “One area that I had never touched on before was the endocrine aspects of transgender health. The firsthand experience with this unique area of pediatric healthcare was something I might not have been exposed to at my home hospital.”

Back home

Dr. Tung returned to Hong Kong in July and is already working with her employer to help establish a structured training program for doctors in pediatric endocrinology.

She says she hopes to continue her relationship with CHOP in the future. “I am still in touch with some of the faculty and I’m actively asking questions on challenging cases, and I anticipate collaborating in the future too."

While studying abroad can be challenging, Dr. Tung hopes the pilot will be expanded, so other foreign physicians can pursue the International Scholar Program at CHOP. “It’s so worth it,” she says. “It was an eye-opening experience and I learned a lot — not just the knowledge in clinical endocrinology and research, but also the enthusiastic working attitude from physicians and staff. I’m so honored to have made lots of friends at CHOP. They are world-renowned experts, but all of them are kind, helpful and humble.”