Skip to content
News & Updates from Niagara Health

Share This Page

IN IT TOGETHER: Training our future physicians during a pandemic

Posted Dec 17th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: Training our future physicians during a pandemic

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Dr. Han-Oh Chung, Niagara Health Intensivist and Academic Lead.

The safety of his patients is Dr. Han-Oh Chung’s highest priority in his role as a Niagara Health critical care physician.

And the safety of medical learners is also top of mind for Dr. Chung in his role as an Academic Lead at Niagara Health.

That commitment to safety has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an Academic Lead, Dr. Chung serves as the liaison between the hospital and the Niagara Regional Campus of McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. He helps to facilitate clinical training opportunities at Niagara Health for medical students and residents, along with other administrative responsibilities related to medical learners.

When the pandemic hit in March, medical students’ clinical placements in the hospital – also known as a clerkship – were paused for safety reasons. However, residents – licensed physicians who have graduated from medical school but are still in training – continued their work in the hospital.

Medical students returned to the hospital in July, with safety being paramount.

“We worked closely with the Niagara Regional Campus of the medical school, with McMaster University as well as our senior leaders to make sure we all agreed as a group on policies and processes to ensure that we brought the students back in the safest way possible,” says Dr. Chung. “We asked, ‘How do we balance the safety of the medical learners, especially junior learners who may not be experienced in the clinical world with respect to COVID, with the need for them to have clinical exposure so that they become competent clinicians?’ ”

Medical residents and students work and train alongside Niagara Health physicians at our St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland Sites, and have an important role in patient care.

“There is a lot of supportive work that residents provide for our physicians and patients that goes unnoticed in the background. Medical students, although they can’t do as much of that because they are not licensed physicians, also provide that role in some capacity as well.”

Dr. Chung says he was proud that Niagara Health was so committed to ensuring medical learners continued to receive vital clinical experience during a challenge time.

“I had a lot of pride in the bigger picture that our senior leadership at Niagara Health was taking in terms of the roles of medical learners and their training in the hospital, despite the pandemic happening. They understood the importance of making sure the students could continue to receive their training and that we did the necessary things to make sure that their training was carried out safely and in the least disruptive manner as possible. If there were any barriers or obstacles that came in the way, they worked very closely with us and were supportive. I have been very thankful for that.”

Working in the ICU

As an Intensivist, Dr. Chung cares for our most critically ill patients, including those with COVID, in the Intensive Care Unit.

Dr. Chung recalls the uncertainty he and other members of the team felt about the virus in the early days of the pandemic.

“There were a lot of images and news of ICUs across the world being overwhelmed by COVID. Despite that, our teams – whether it be the respiratory therapists, nurses, physicians and all of the other allied health groups – came together and responded incredibly well. We were all supporting each other. People have really rallied together. A lot of people also stepped up in terms of leadership roles, helping to create policies and processes for the hospital, such as how we would deal with a surge of COVID patients and ethical dilemmas. People stepped up to address scenarios we’ve never had to deal with before. It was awesome to see.”

How does he unwind from work?

“With work becoming more virtual, it also means work follows you home a lot more. Learning how to make sure you set boundaries so that you can maintain a personal and work-life balance took a while for me to adjust to. I am a homebody to begin with so I have been taking the extra time that I have at home to maintain my fitness through exercise, renew my love for cooking and try out new baking challenges.”


Every year, Niagara Health supports hundreds of student placements across our sites in clinical and clinical-support positions. We have more than 100 academic partners with the largest number of students coming from Niagara College, Brock University and McMaster University.


Niagara Health System