This month, we chatted with Dr. Brandon Tang, a PGY-1 Internal Medicine Resident. Dr. Tang is passionate about both medical education and health systems leadership. He completed a master’s degree in System Leadership and Innovation concurrent to his medical studies, is the Editor-in-Chief of a clinical examination handbook sold internationally, and co-founder of Univore, a recipe generator app designed to help students cook simple and healthy meals. In this edition, Dr. Tang discusses some of his experiences in these areas, as well as the transition into his residency training.
I completed medical school at the University of Toronto, where I was very fortunate to receive a Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Scholarship that allowed me to complete a master’s in System Leadership and Innovation concurrent to my medical studies. This was a new postgraduate program aimed at developing physician leaders, focusing on systems-level topics including health policy, strategy, and research methodology. However, what really sparked my interest in health systems were the practical components of the program which allowed me to effect real systems-level change.
Through this degree, I’ve worked on several projects over the years, with some highlights including: developing a physician performance feedback tool at Trillium Health Partners; providing key student-perspective during the first curriculum renewal at the University of Toronto medical school in over 20 years; learning how to critically appraise and evaluate novel health technologies at the Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV); and studying determinants of cancer drug access in Trinidad & Tobago through The Hospital for Sick Children.
This work was incredibly rewarding and contributed immeasurably to my own personal development. In addition, it connected me with mentors who encouraged me to take a systems-perspective on issues in healthcare, and inspired me to be a leader for positive change. Like most others, I went into medicine out of a desire to help others, though I soon realized that healthcare providers face countless systemic barriers to providing high quality care. My master’s degree and the experiences that came with it have provided me with a means to achieve my goal of helping others on a broader scale – to transform health systems to provide better, more efficient, and more satisfying care for patients and providers alike.
On top of having been a medical student (and now a Resident), you’ve worked on app development as well. How did you initially get involved in this area?
One of my favourite experiences during medical school was leading the creation of two unique apps geared toward medical students – a recipe generator app called Univore, to help students learn how to cook healthy and simple meals, and OSCEr, a checklist app to help medical students prepare for their clinical exams.
My interest in app development initially stemmed from a broader desire to innovate and improve in the area of medical education. As mentioned earlier, I was heavily involved in my medical school’s curriculum renewal and was influenced by mentors who were constantly challenging how we could modernize medical education, improve upon it, and make it more sustainable. One potential solution is FOAM (Free Open Access Medical Education), in which access to world class educational resources in medicine are available freely online. Moreover, using apps as a medium for FOAM stood out to me, because as a millennial myself, I felt that apps had inherent appeal to my audience of interest.
Importantly, I do not have a background in computer science or programming, and hence had zero aptitude to program the app myself. However, for both of my app projects, I served as a bridge between the backend process of programming, and frontend process of designing the app based on user needs. My particular roles included developing the initial concept for the apps, helping to design their functionality (e.g., app screens and user flow), and coordinating between large teams including designers and programmers. Though I didn’t know how to code an app myself, I still had an important role in conceptualizing and driving the projects forward to completion. And to me, this represented an important point, as it mirrors the role that many physician leaders play – bridging worlds via our unique perspectives in clinical medicine and other fields, such as medical education or the implementation of novel health technologies.
You are a co-founder of the app Univore, which aims to help users (particularly students) prepare dietician-approved meals with the ingredients they already have in their kitchen. Can you talk more about the idea behind the app, and the process of creating it?
I cut a tomato for the first time in my 20s, which was a wakeup call that I finally needed to learn how to cook. However, this also sparked a broader realization that many students struggle to cook healthy meals, particularly when moving away from home for the first time. Inspired by our personal experiences, I co-founded Univore with a classmate from medical school as a solution to this problem. For this project, we were fortunate to work under the guidance of the University Health Network (UHN) OpenLab, a healthcare-focused think tank in Toronto, Ontario.
We began by surveying our medical class to determine their self-assessed cooking competency and their most commonly used ingredients when cooking. These basic ingredients formed the basis for all recipes within Univore, to ensure that the app was based on what students actually have readily available. We then recruited an app designer and programmer, both students who shared our passion for cooking, to translate our vision for the app into reality. After over a year of hard work, Univore was published on the Apple App Store, free for students to use globally, and shared broadly on social media. Along the way, we were fortunate to receive funding to support our project via an Innovator Grant from the Ontario Medical Students Association, and to have presented and received awards for our work at numerous academic conferences.
In the future, we envision Univore as a project that groups of medical students at the UHN OpenLab can contribute to annually, to continue to expand its reach and impact. The project was initiated by students, for students and we hope that it can continue to thrive as a student-led grassroots initiative.
I fell in love with Vancouver the first time I visited two years ago. I loved the city’s liveliness, juxtaposition with nature and, of course, the food. I am thrilled to now call Vancouver my new home.
That said, the past few months have been a roller coaster with numerous transitions occurring simultaneously. Stepping into the role of a resident physician was a huge increase in responsibility; this was especially challenging on the backdrop of moving away from familiar friends and mentors in Toronto, and settling into a new home. What made the transition much easier, however, was moving here with my partner and better half, Linda, who is also a resident physician, in dermatology, here at UBC. We both feel so fortunate to have been welcomed into an incredible new community here in Vancouver.
Overall, I’m excited to become a Vancouverite and am off to a great start with a brand new bicycle (and umbrella too). I’ve brought with me my passion for medical education and health systems leadership, and I’ve accordingly taken on leadership roles this year with both Resident Doctors of British Columbia and Resident Doctors of Canada, co-chairing their national Practice Committee. Residency has just started, but I can’t wait to get engaged with both the city and medical community.