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Her Life
January 20, 2021
A charismatic, exuberant and passionate social scientist, Dr Mei Ling Young, was one of the three founders of the International Medical College (IMC), Malaysia’s first private medical college in 1992. Together with Tan Sri Datuk Dr Kamal bin Salih and the late Dr Saidi Hashim, they had embarked on a mission – to establish an educational model that would allow more young Malaysians to pursue their ambitions to become doctors and other healthcare professionals through a globally recognised curriculum. With the help of two established professors of medical education, Ron Harden and Ian Hart, they devised a simple, brilliant but daring model and the only one of its kind in the world where all students who achieved the required standard, the outcomes, can be transferred in their clinical years to initially, five, and later, to nearly 33 renowned medical schools throughout the English-speaking world. 

Mei Ling was born in Seremban, Malaysia in 1949. She obtained her BA (Geography) from the University of Auckland in 1971 and was awarded a Senior Scholarship during her studies. She continued with her postgraduate studies at the same university and in 1974 was awarded the MA (First Class Honours) and concurrently offered a New Zealand Postgraduate Scholarship and the Australian National University (ANU) scholarships for Geography or Demography. She took up the latter offer and completed her PhD thesis after her return to Malaysia.

In 1979 she joined Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in Penang as a lecturer in Development Studies at the School of Social Sciences. Because of a keen interest in research, in 1987, Mei Ling joined Kamal Salih as a foundation associate research fellow and helped establish the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER), the first independent, non-profit think-tank in Malaysia.

Over the years, she has penned over 70 papers on migration and employment, urbanization, industrialization and socio-economic issues and has spoken at numerous seminars and conferences at both national and international levels.

Mei Ling’s contributions and achievement is largely seen in the establishment of the International Medical College (IMC). Throughout her journey in developing IMC, she had assumed the position of Executive Director, and Registrar of the college. Holding both positions, she was able to balance and make decisions for both corporate and academic matters to ensure the smooth implementation of the college project.

During that period, education and health have always been regarded as the government’s responsibility and there was no precedence where a private medical school used government clinics and hospitals to train doctors.

Mei Ling played a pivotal role in persuading and convincing the Malaysian ministries of education and health to support the vision and mission of the college.

She also played an important role in managing two very eminent retired medical professors, Prof John Beck who was appointed as the first IMC’s Foundation Dean, and Sir Patrick Forrest who later joined as the Associate Dean. The management of the international faculty and the negotiation with some of the world’s best medical schools to be part of the unique collaborative education model - the Partner Medical School (PMS) was no easy task.

In 1998, the Asian Financial Crisis resulted in the depreciation of the ringgit and made all overseas education prohibitively expensive. This was especially true for medical education. Responding to this challenge, Mei Ling immediately negotiated for students in UK to transfer to less expensive PMS in New Zealand and Canada. More importantly, she fast tracked the establishment of an IMU Clinical School in order to provide students the opportunity to complete the entire medical programme locally. Within nine months the clinical campus adjacent to the Tuanku Ja’afar Hospital was built and the development of the clinical curriculum completed, with faculty on board. The IMC was awarded university status in 1999, becoming the International Medical University (IMU), the first private university in the country.

Expanding its plan to be an integrated healthcare provider, IMU took the bold step to provide healthcare services to the public. In 2010, IMU Healthcare was formed with the establishment of its oral healthcare centre, chiropractic centre, medical clinic and Chinese medicine centre. Mei Ling was the major driving force in this ambitious undertaking, adding the development of an IMU hospital, scheduled to open its door to the public by 2022.

She was the Advisor and Board Member of the IMU Group. Mei Ling previously held the positions of Provost (1999-2015) and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, International and Engagement (2016-17) at the International Medical University.

Actively contributing to the private education landscape, Mei Ling also held the positions of Deputy Secretary- General and later the President of the Malaysian Association of Private Colleges & Universities (MAPCU) from 2005-06 and 2015-17, respectively. During this period, private education flourished in Malaysia, making it equal to government providers. MAPCU worked closely with the government to ensure quality and to change the mind-set where instead of being competitors, private and government providers work together for the common good of the country.

Internationally recognised for her contributions in medical education, she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Strathclyde in 2013 and the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa from the University of Dundee in 2014. Mei Ling was also the first Asian to be awarded the prestigious Association for the Study of Medical Education (ASME) Gold Medal in 2017.

Striving for perfection is Mei Ling’s greatest strength. She was always able, by a combination of diplomacy, gentle persuasion and tenacity to motivate her peers and subordinates to doing their very best. And it has been largely through her efforts that the university has managed to achieve and maintain its premier position in Malaysia.

Reflections of Mei - Eulogy by Dr Susan YuLing Young

January 25, 2021
Mei was born in Seremban in 1949. Mum's family were very close and she was brought up with grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts very much part of her daily life. This gave her an incredibly strong sense of family unity, which stayed with her throughout her life. From our father she developed her love of books and learning and like him was a walking encyclopaedia. For me, who came along some 13 years later, she was my beloved older sister who I both adored and have looked up to my entire life. She has taught me so much and was akin to a second mother to me. 

To a great extent, we were both brought up as only children - such was the age gap between us. Mei left home for university in Auckland when I was just 5. By the time she had completed both her Bachelor and Master degrees and was on her PhD journey we had decamped to the UK,  missing her return to Malaysia where she took up a post as a Social Science lecturer at the University Sains Malaysia in Penang. I remember summer holidays spent with her, hanging out at the university campus whilst she worked and have many happy memories of her friends and colleagues known affectionately as 'The Penang Gang'  

In 1981, she married Mark after a courtship that had lasted some 20 years! He has been her devoted, ardent and loyal supporter throughout their lives together. Her soul mate - and she so clearly his. They built a wonderful life together - and should have had many more happy years to look forward to. Mark... the wonderful memories will always remain.  

As Mei's career progressed, her interest in development issues eventually led her to become one of the principal co-founders of IMU in 1992. At the time, Malaysia had around 3,500 doctors for the entire population. Mei wanted to give more access and opportunity to more Malaysians to be able to have a medical education beyond the government quotas and with the limitations of expensive overseas training. She guided the IMC from its infancy working tirelessly nurturing and developing the people whom she worked with to make IMU the success it is today.  Her passion and obsession was for IMU to have its own hospital, and we grieve all the more that she will not be present when this hospital that she worked so tirelessly towards, is opened in 2022. 

Most important to Mei was her son Wui Leng. From the day he was born, the bond was exceptionally strong and I have been particularly impressed in how he has looked out for her over the last 2.5 years of her illness. Taking care of all the important background work - researching treatments, arranging appointments, sourcing medicine, supplements and finally hospital equipment so her wish to return home could be fulfilled. All these things unseen and easily overlooked by others. I have watched him comfort and soothe her. Massaging and stroking her limbs as she lay helpless in bed, trying to ease her discomfort and all this whilst working too.   

When Wui Leng introduced Zhou to the family, Mei, quickly welcomed her and integrated her into the family and over a short time I know Zhou came to mean a lot to Mei. When I was allowed out of quarantine to visit her briefly in hospital, she told me how she thought Zhou was very good for Wui Leng and how kind and caring Zhou had been with her - all this during my so short visit and Mei so short of breath. In her last years she was blessed with a devoted daughter as well as a wonderful son.

So, where and how do I begin to describe my sister Mei Ling when there are so many words that would fit the bill. 

Exciting, adventurous, mischievous, far sighted, positive, charismatic, persuasive, visionary, brave, bold, inclusive - it did not matter who you were, she could make you feel special and treasured. 

We, each one of us will recognise in her all of these descriptions and yet, I could still go on. 

Loving, generous, kind, thoughtful, joyous, loyal, a true and committed partner, parent, friend, sister, mentor and workmate. I could tell you a story about Mei Ling for each of these descriptions, but we would be here all evening. So, I will just share one or two with you. 

Sadly, both our parents were not alive to witness the 3 honorary doctorates or the ASME Gold Award for Medical Education that Mei was to receive for her outstanding contribution to medical education during her career. Norman and I represented them on all these occasions. As we proudly sat at the graduation ceremony awarding her the first of her honorary doctorates at Strathclyde University Institute of Pharmacy, I was amused to hear how Prof Brian Furman described how they had been "Mei Ling-ed"! Their intension had been to accept a handful of IMC students but found themselves accepting more than 100 such was her boldness, charm and persuasive powers. I know more than one of us will recognise having been Mei Ling-ed in the past.

Her sense of adventure led her, along with family and friends to all corners of the globe and her sense of adventure did not necessarily have to involve her taking part. Wui Leng found himself scaling Sydney Harbour Bridge, I found myself sampling bats in Luang Prabang. We had to try everything. 'Must Try' was one of her memorable phrases. 

As her fantastic PA Pearly puts it ... the world is less happening without her. Heaven is going to be a busy place with her now in it and we should take comfort in that 

Above all, we must give thanks for the life of a woman I am so proud to be able to call my sister and for her life that gave so much.  To quote her own words addressed to undergraduates:

“When you are young, you feel you have everything ahead of you. I felt the same. It’s natural. One never thinks it is going to end and even in a fleeting moment, if you think it may, it seems unreal. But life is fragile. So, whatever good you can do, do not delay it. The chance may not come up again. And if you need a perspective, whatever agitates you or upsets you, when you reflect on the big issue, the impermanence of life, all these things become small and inconsequential. And in the context of your work in healthcare, please remember, it is a privilege to serve. Service and to be useful and relevant can be a legacy.”

Little did we know then that those words would be prophetic. Even in her very last days she confided to me when we were alone, that she had not given enough. I asked her how she could possibly think that, and I am still baffled. Yet I know it's also rings true. Hers was a life cut short when she still had so much more to give and had wanted to give. 

The Hengs have lost the very heart of their family. The Youngs, Blacks, Chongs, Lims and Vongs that make up Mei's history and family have lost their brightest star and IMU a leader in the truest sense of the word. We are all united in our shared grief at our loss, but we must also remember that everyone of us grieving today has brought love and meaning to Mei's life and has helped her achieve all that she has done.