07 March 2013

The importance of chance encounters

UNIVERSITY OF HULL, UK—As a young academic at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1990s, I attended the Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom Research Society Conference in Birmingham, UK. An argument with a taxi driver over the fare meant that I walked to my accommodation under a very dark cloud.

Walking in the opposite direction to me was a man, clearly of Chinese origin, who looked as if he wanted to speak—the last thing I wanted to do. However, he introduced himself as the PhD student of a colleague and good friend of mine in Glasgow, which brightened my mood a little, and we spoke for a few minutes.

More than 10 years later, I found myself sitting opposite him, unaware of who he was, at lunch in Hong Kong, and he recalled that we had met. His name was Thomas Wong. One of the most influential figures in nursing in Hong Kong, he was professor and head of nursing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He has, variously, chaired the Nursing Council, been dean of his faculty of health care and a vice president of the university. Currently, he is president of Tung Wah College in Hong Kong.

I have just returned from one of many visits to Hong Kong, my previous visit being the subject of an earlier blog. I was undertaking visiting-professor duties at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where nursing is now led by another friend and colleague, Professor Alex Molasiotis. Clearly of Greek origin, Alex is a leading expert in cancer and palliative care nursing, with an outstanding CV and previous working experience in Hong Kong and mainland China. We met unexpectedly in Singapore and found a common interest in the Far East and Southeast Asia, and also my hometown of Hull, UK, where Alex studied for his master’s degree and still has family links.

Courtesy of the Cathay Pacific long-haul flight to the United Kingdom from Hong Kong, I was reflecting on the past decade, during which I have made more than 50 visits to Hong Kong. I thought about the important place that this unique and extraordinary Special Administrative Region of China (and former British colony) has had on my personal and professional life.

Personally, it is a place that is now familiar to my wife and several of my children; where I feel almost as “at home” as I do at home. Professionally, the influence Hong Kong has had on my career is obvious. It has been for me, literally, the gateway to the Far East, Southeast Asia and Australasia since, at the invitation of Professor David Thompson, then of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, I found myself in Hong Kong for the first time.

Since then, I have collaborated on research grant applications and publications with colleagues across the Far East and Southeast Asia. I am now a part-time professor in Australia and a visiting professor in Singapore. People like Thomas Wong—who I very nearly ignored the first time I met him—and Alex Molasiotis, together with countless others who took the time to get to know me—thankfully, I reciprocated—have kept me constantly engaged in activities that are amongst the most rewarding of my professional life.

If this blog entry has a moral, it is this: Never underestimate the next person you meet, never ignore people at conferences, and set no limits on where your next conversation may lead you, professionally and geographically.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

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