Students Reflect on Training with Top Faculty from the US and UK to Improve Sexual Health in China

Bill Miller, MD, PhD, MPH, leads a training in manuscript writing.

Bill Miller, MD, PhD, MPH, leads a training in manuscript writing.

Friday, Sept. 18, 2015
Jessica Mao is a medical student at UCLA, where she just completed her third year of medical school. She is spending a year in Guangzhou, China, as part of the Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship to work with UNC Project-China under the direction of Joe Tucker, MD, PhD. She will spend her year working with the Social Entrepreneurship for Sexual Health (SESH) group promoting HIV prevention and awareness.

Today was the kickoff of our South China-UNC STI Training Course & Research Workshop (try saying that 10 times fast!) This event has several purposes: 1) to bring together the researchers in China with the mentors from the US and the UK 2) to provide some training for the Chinese researchers 3) learn about the research being conducted overseas and 4) to update the mentors regarding our progress and future directions.

We started out the morning with a session by two UNC librarians, Jennifer Walker and Mellanye Lackey, where we learned how to better search medical literature databases and how to use Endnote. You would think that after four years of college at Johns Hopkins and three years of medical school, I would know how to search a database, but I still picked up some useful tips and tricks that will make my life so much easier in the future. Speaking to some of my Chinese colleagues, it seems that they are not always taught how to search English databases, and have been muddling along as best they could. This session was immensely helpful for them. I only wish that there had been a similar session regarding searching Chinese databases! I suppose there though, my biggest hurdle is the fact that everything is in Chinese…

Our next session was an informative session by William Miller, MD, PhD, MPH, regarding manuscript writing. We went over the basics – what goes into the introduction, methods, results, and discussion sections. While this was a topic I know well, it made me happy to think about the scientific method that I had been learning since 4th grade (If I add vinegar and baking soda into a papier-mâché volcano, then it will explode).

We took a break for lunch and for a rest. In China, it is customary that the hours of 12-2 p.m. be taken as a rest. The majority of people will take a nap (not unlike a Spanish siesta) after eating lunch. As an American, this is new for me, but even if I do not sleep it is nice to just have some time for myself.

We continued on in the afternoon with more manuscript writing. In this session, we talked about actual writing style rather than just the content. We discussed common grammar mistakes, editing out unneeded words and phrases, and rules for clearer writing. I am fairly confident I have neglected several of these in writing this post, so my apologies Dr. Miller! This was then followed by some practice using an actual work-in-progress by members of our group here. While I like to think that I am not a bad writer, the truth is that my degree is in engineering and the last time I wrote anything literary was probably high school. This was a good chance to practice only writing skills in an interactive and engaging way.

All in all, day one of our workshop was a success. During an initial cursory glance through the schedule, I felt that many of the activities were more geared towards my Chinese co-workers rather than towards myself. I was pleasantly mistaken though, and I think this just goes to show that there is always something to learn and some way to better myself. My colleagues, too, found the workshop immensely useful for their work. Our thanks to the UNC librarians and Dr. Miller for their time!

Coming up next, day two of the conference!

Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015
Krystal Zhang is the research assistant from SESH RO1 research team. It has been six months since she came on board with SESH. She has been involved in the qualitative research on contest evaluation as well as helping out some of the SESH organizational work. Krystal came from a background of anthropology, which often offers the team some unique ways of seeing things. As one of the “seniors” in the team (some of the members just newly arrived), she is very proud of what SESH has been working for while eager to learn more from the experts in the workshop.

It is the 7th day of work in a row for some of us because we have been busy preparing for the SESH STD Workshop, which JUST started today! The morning session was kicked off with a series of amazing talks given by renowned public health professionals from China, UK and US. Myron Cohen, MD, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Global Health at UNC Chapel Hill, who has been working for China HIV/STD projects for years, gave a presentation on current HIV prevention and cure worldwide. He made a joke saying that he was recording for VOA special English by speaking very slowly, but clearly in order to make the lecture more approachable to the Chinese audience. We all broke into laughter because it did sound like an audio from VOA Special English Health Report. His idea about cures should serve as the fundamental way of preventing HIV really got me thinking: for the SESH team, our current goal is to cut the transmission through increasing condom use and screening. Does that mean we still have a long way to go?

Kevin Fenton, MD, is the Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.

Kevin Fenton, MD, is the Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.

Kevin Fenton, MD, is the last speaker in the morning session; however, I can resonate with his talk the most. In his talk, he showed us some of the methods that his team and other health care providers have been using, with the help of mobile apps. When I was still going to school in the UK, I noticed that the UK has an amazing National Health System (unfortunately the government has cut down the budget for health lately). Although Britain is a country that has a long history, they are really good at cultivating innovations and incorporating different sectors in the society. Dr. Fenton demonstrated some of the programs they have combining health and mobile apps, which was truly inspiring and intriguing. In his talk, I found out that the clinic Bupa at the corner of my apartment back then has opened their own mobile app to connect people you know and engage them in a healthy life style.

The SESH team would give presentations on our work for the afternoon session. We already gave presentations once for the World Health Organization TDR meeting two weeks ago, but in front of all these professors? I couldn’t help but feel nervous. Fortunately all the presentations went very well, during which intense, but thought-provoking discussions highlighted the event. It is genuinely lucky to have all the professors here to reflect on SESH’s previous work and explore potential projects with us. Having been involved in the condom contest and photo contest, we received some awesome ideas on how we could improve our contests from the perspective of the audience while the professors gave us comments based on a wider spectrum – the general public health. I hope with all this feedback our next contest will be even more successful!

It is the second day of the workshop, and I already miss everyone and the intense discussion!

Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015
Lulu Qin is a medical student at Case Western Reserve University, where she just completed her third year of medical school. She is spending a year in Guangzhou, China, as part of the Fulbright-Fogarty fellowship to investigate HIV self-testing under the direction of Joe Tucker MD, PhD.


Joseph Tucker, MD, PhD, seated second from the left, leads UNC Project-China. Myron Cohen, MD, standing, is the Director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases, and he first began working in China in 1989.

During the third and final day of the South China-UNC STI Training Course & Research Workshop, we saw presentations about various projects. First, from the SESH collaborators from the Shandong CDC (Wei Ma) introduced some SESH projects that were happening in their city, as well as hopes for the future with SESH’s research support. Their city is the site from which a marketing-derived (rather than crowdsourced) video about condom use was made. Conference attendees debated about their thoughts regarding the differences between a professional video and a crowdsourced video, will this new approach work?

Next, Professor Kevin Fenton from Public Health England presented his most recent project, Health X. As Director of Health of Wellbeing, Dr. Fenton is responsible for the design and delivery of national health and wellbeing programs – a hefty charge to say the least. Towards this end, he piloted a nationwide contest to create a mobile app that promotes public health – be it eating better, exercising, or managing chronic diseases. The ultimate winner, by a group called Fee Fi Fo Fit, was an app that promoted family’s to walk around the neighborhood together in search of certain landmarks that earned them rewards.

Finally, the morning ended with Dr. Joe Tucker providing an overview of SESH’s future directions. Namely, after pilot testing the concept of using crowdsourcing to create relevant public health messages, the next step would be to conduct randomized control trials to evaluate the effect of such an intervention. Conference attendees generated lots of feedback and discussion about how best to proceed next. The end goal is to create an efficacious and cost-effective tool that has the potential to have lasting impact on sexual health in China.

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