When King Fok was 6 years old, he suffered from an orthopedic condition that caused him to spend two years on crutches. Uncovered by his health insurance, the condition was the Kellogg International Scholar’s first glimpse into how socioeconomic status impacts health care.

Now, as a pre-health major at the University of Notre Dame who hopes to become a physician, he wants to make medical care more efficient, inclusive, and accessible to all.

“My condition expanded my view of health beyond just the medical definition to encompass a whole person’s health,” he said, to include their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health.

Fok is also majoring in sociology and minoring in international development studies. He spent five weeks in Ghana on an Experiencing the World Fellowship, interviewing amputees and practitioners providing rehabilitative services across the country.

“Over my four years, I’ve discovered how much sociology, pre-health, and international development all blend together – you can’t look at individual health outcomes without analyzing the systemic, underlying social processes which development tries to address,” he said. “If you look at education holistically, it’s been so formative for me to have had the opportunity to know these very different disciplines so that I can take a multi-disciplinary approach to looking at issues.”

After his freshman year, Fok worked at the Harper Cancer Research Institute to study how blood cells form as stem cells develop, part of a project with the ultimate goal of finding a cure for leukemia.

He also worked with sociologist Terence McDonnell a Kellogg Institute faculty fellow, to research prosthetic materiality and the influence of popular culture on objects. The project closely aligned with Fok’s interest in looking at rehabilitative and disabled care across socioeconomic classes.

“It made me realize that while I enjoy research on both fronts, I was more interested in doing research in terms of sociology, talking with subjects and finding ways to improve patient interaction,” Fok said. “It helped me develop interpersonal skills – asking questions, looking beyond surface-level meaning of things, and going into a deeper level to explore the complexities of people. I really appreciated this research in sociology because of that.”

That realization led to Fok’s IDS capstone – a study of the social and structural barriers to health care for amputees in Ghana – and his senior thesis on how social and structural barriers in society influence the clinical decision-making process of individual patients. 

He traveled to Ghana the summers after his sophomore and junior years, conducting field ethnography at rehabilitation centers – including the National Prosthetic and Orthotics Center with Ghana’s Ministry of Health – health care delivery assessments, and patient-employee satisfaction surveys. He interviewed patients, workers, and practitioners.

“I would ask them, ‘How did you feel going into the doctor’s appointment? Did you feel like you could ask the practitioner what you needed to know? Did you not like a certain practice? Was there a time you disagreed with the practitioner?’” Fok said.

“It’s been a very enjoyable experience in terms of research, particularly in sociology and international health. Being able to blend those two topics, while also incorporating my pre-med interests, has been really important to me.”

After graduation, Fok plans to pursue a master’s degree in global public health and policy in the UK or enter full-time service at an orphanage founded by a Notre Dame graduate, Open Arms for Homes, which helps children whose parents had HIV/AIDS in South Africa. He later plans to attend medical school.

Originally published at al.nd.edu

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