While visiting Ghana after completing her Masters of International Public Health, Dr Janice Yeon realised she wanted a career providing practical help to others, especially in developing countries. Seeing the impact of malnourishment on children in Ghana convinced Dr Yeon that medicine would be her professional path.
Dr Yeon’s decision to steer her career towards dermatology was partly motivated by her own skin problems but her interest grew further after her dermatology residency. She then met Professor Samuel Zagarella who told her about the Pacific Dermatology Training Centre and Associate Professor Margot Whitfeld. “Professor Zagarella told me he was going to Fiji to teach, and I wanted in!” said Dr Yeon.
Today, Dr Yeon is a Dermatology Research Fellow at The Skin Hospital doing clinical research and assisting with clinical work – she also is the Programme Coordinator for Pacific Dermatology here in Australia.
“Sometimes it can be really difficult to balance it all but I’m passionate about it so it’s worth doing. And one of the perks it is that I get to work closely alongside Dr Whitfeld”.
“Dr Whitfeld is what I envision myself to be one day. She is so giving and understanding and she sees the best in everyone – these are values I really appreciate. Professionally she is a well-respected and recognised dermatologist and for good reason, she’s extremely knowledgeable in this field. I respect that, and what she does for Dermatology in Fiji and the Pacific on a policy level.”
During the COVID19 pandemic, Dr Yeon has helped adapt the Pacific Dermatology Training Centre teaching program to a largely online format. “All of a sudden we went from sending dermatologists to Fiji to teach, to doing everything online. I am not a ‘tech person’ but I had to adapt, teach others to use it, and be very organised. The fact that in 2020 we eventually managed to teach three students studying the Diploma of Dermatology, was an amazing success in this environment.” As well as liaising with volunteer lecturers here in Australia, Dr Yeon assists with exam and marking preparation.
Dr Yeon has seen how Pacific Dermatology’s education work complements other work that Dr Whitfeld does in Fiji. “Recently, Margot helped facilitate the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for Dermatology, Leprosy and Albinism for 2021-2026. She helped develop the plan with Dr Mike Kama, Medical Superintendent at Tamavua Twomey Hospital and with Dr Meciusela Tuicakau, Fiji’s only dermatologist.” Dr Yeon helped conducted a retrospective audit of the walk-in Skin Clinic at Tamavua Twomey Hospital, and this data was used to inform the NSP. “This raw data had never come out of Fiji before. I was impressed by the volume of patients seen at this clinic, spread thinly across a handful of doctors and nurses. The data also revealed neglected tropical skin diseases affecting the Fijian population – one example is chromoblastomycosis – a deep fungal infection.”
Sometimes Dr Yeon feels in awe about what doctors in the Pacific achieve with limited resources. “We take for granted what we have here. In PNG they need liquid nitrogen and simply trying to organise a canister to get there can be a real challenge. On the other hand, Fiji is the only country in the world where the government provides sunscreen for free to people with albinism.”
What does Dr Yeon most hope for from the work of Pacific Dermatology? “I would love to see the first student enrol in the Masters of Medicine in Dermatology soon – then the programme will really be on its way to its long-term goal. It will be great to see a sustainable program and more dermatologists available in the Pacific.”