Retirement doesn't mean goodbye for 'doctor's doctor'

Retirement doesn't mean goodbye for 'doctor's doctor'

June 8, 2017

To some, he’s a master clinician. To others, he’s a legendary leader and doctor's doctor.

For Dr. Moira Kapral and many of her colleagues, Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong is simply ‘the boss’.

The senior core scientist and other distinguished medical practitioners paid tribute to the retiring Jamaican-born senior consulting physician at a farewell ceremony recently.

“It’s not a stretch to say that many of us in this room would not be where we are today were it not for him,” said Kapral who is a staff physician in the University Health Network (UHN) general internal medicine division. “Those of us who know him know that he can sometimes be a little cryptic in his communication style, but he is always clear when giving career advice. His recommendations, which were not always exactly what we wanted to hear, would often conclude with the words, “this would be good for you’.”

Kapral said Ho Ping Kong contributed significantly to the advancement of general internal medicine in Canada.

“He developed highly regarded clinical teaching units and established the importance of clinical teaching,” added the University of Toronto medicine & health policy management & evaluation associate professor. “Through it all, he never stopped seeing patients and even doing house calls where necessary.”

UHN physician-in-chief Dr. Ed Cole said celebrating Ho Ping Kong’s stellar career is an opportunity to reflect on the master clinician that he is.

“Often, we are so focussed on research achievements which are obviously hugely important and we use so much technology in medicine which has contributed in a great way to our abilities to diagnose and treat problems that we forget about the patient and why we are all here,” said Cole who is a clinical researcher at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute. “We also forget the importance of outstanding clinical skills.”

Ho Ping Kong has enjoyed an extensive career as an exemplary practicing consultant physician and teacher with key leadership roles in medical education and program development at the local, provincial and national levels.

The distinguished medical practitioner students include Dr. Rodrigo Cavalcanti who is the director of the Herbert Ho Ping Kong Centre for Excellence in Education & Practice at the UHN.

Nine years ago, he and Ho Ping Kong founded the centre to serve as an incubator for innovative practice-oriented programs in medical education, provide support for senior trainees in academic general internal medicine (GIM) and recruit staff in high level GIM consulting practice.

“He has been my mentor, teacher and constant inspiration during my career,” said Cavalcanti, an associate professor of medicine at the U of T. “He has a wonderful personal touch with his patients and he’s dedicated to patient care and transmitting his expertise both in medicine and in humanism to the next generation. His mentorship of generations of academic internists along with his amazing leadership and diagnostic acumen are, in my mind, his true legacy.”

UHN president and chief executive officer Dr. Peter Pisters reflected on Ho Ping Kong’s eminent medical career.

“As I was reviewing his resume in preparation for this evening, it was very clear that his influence has really being felt around the world,” said Pisters. “In fact, nearly two generations worth of trainees have really benefitted from his teaching and are now in practice in universities here in Canada and around the world…Long before the term ‘patient centred’ care was coined, he was always driving home to his students that the needs of patients come first. We, at UHN, have adapted to that as our primary value.”

Jamaica’s consul general Lloyd Wilks thanked Ho Ping Kong for saving his mother’s life.

“My mom was on dialysis and when I was leaving Jamaica, Dr. Buddy McIntosh (he’s a co-founder of the Kingston College Old Boys Association Toronto chapter) told me to look up Ho Ping Kong when I got to Canada,” said the diplomat. “My mother is stubborn, but he got through to her. Back then, she was half dead. Today, she’s more than fully alive…Jamaica’s best assets are its people and Dr. Ho Ping Kong stands heads and shoulders with the best of them.”

After graduating from St. George’s College in Jamaica, Ho Ping Kong launched his university education at the University College of the West Indies that became the University of the West Indies in 1948. He studied in England before returning to Jamaica to teach at UWI and practice for about two years before migrating to Canada in 1973.

He joined McGill University 44 years ago as a full-time staff member and founded the division of general internal medicine at the university’s Royal Victoria Hospital. After a decade in Montreal where he learned to speak French, Ho Ping Kong came to Toronto in 1984, was promoted to full professor six years later by the University of Toronto and was appointed physician-in-chief at Toronto Hospital in 1992 with particular emphasis in the education portfolio. In 2004, he became the inaugural holder of the Gladstone and Maisie Chang endowed chair in internal medicine teaching at the UHN and the U of T.

Ho Ping Kong created an evidence-based curriculum in core internal medicine program for resident trainees and was instrumental in redefining the role of general internists on the clinical teaching units. He also drew on his extensive dossier of personal cases and five decades as a clinician to examine the core principles of a patient-centred approach to diagnosis and treatment in a new book, ‘The Art of Medicine: Healing and the Limits of Technology’, that he co-authored with Michael Posner.

Though extremely busy, Ho Ping Kong’s daughter – Christine Ho Ping Kong – said her father dedicated quality time to his family that also includes his wife, Dr. Barbara Ho Ping Kong who is a dermatologist, and their other two children.

Dr. Wayne Ho Ping Kong is a cardiologist and Peter Ho Ping Kong is a Toronto District School board teacher.

“He always had time for us and we felt valued and important,” said the co-founder, with her husband Peter Tan, of Studio Junction which is an award-winning architecture firm. “My dad is also a well-rounded man. He has a lifelong love for fishing, he creates legendary Sunday dishes and he goes ballroom dancing and on cruises with our mom.” 

When the University of the West Indies (UWI) needed help from the Canadian Diaspora community to raise funds to provide scholarships for Caribbean students, the late Ray Chang and his wife, Donette Chin-Loy Chang, agreed to be the patrons of an annual gala on one condition. Ho Ping Kong, their close friend, had to be the event’s chair.

Donette Chin-Loy Chang congratulates Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong

Donette Chin-Loy Chang congratulates Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong

Since the inaugural gala seven years ago, over $1.5 million has been raised and almost 300 students – many of them the first in their family to pursue post-secondary education – have been awarded scholarships.

“To say that Dr. Herbert Ho Ping Kong is a friend of the University of the West Indies does not do justice to his almost six decades of association with the institution,” said UWI vice-chancellor Dr. Hilary Beckles in a letter read by Chin-Loy Chang. “…He is the quintessential humanitarian grounded in his person and passionate about his cause.”

Outgoing UWI chancellor Sir George Alleyne also congratulated Ho Ping Kong on ‘your formal retirement’.

“I say formal retirement because I am sure your passion for medicine and your love of teaching will keep you attached in some way or other to medical education,” he said. “We cannot lose your accumulated clinical acumen and finely honed pedagogical skills…I have seen you grow in stature and shine the brightest and best in your field and I am absolutely delighted to be able to express my sincerest admiration for that growth.”

Jamaica’s Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton noted that Ho Ping Kong’s extraordinary career has been grounded in his compassion for mankind.

“You will step away from the profession fully aware that it has made you better because you were part of it,” he said in his congratulatory letter. “…You have passed on two of the most fundamental gifts one human can give to another and those are health and knowledge.”

Two weeks ago, Ho Ping Kong was awarded Jamaica’s Musgrave Gold Medal for his contribution to the field of science.

“This award is indeed true recognition of the distinguished eminence you have displayed as you served in your various vital spheres of endeavour,” said former Jamaica Prime Minister P.J Patterson.

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