A Clinician Opens Opportunities

– Dermatology, Liver Cancer, and Letting off Steam

Source: Office of Global Engagement

Published on 2022-05-31

Uyanga Batzorig decided early to pursue a career as a medical doctor, a decision that came naturally; she was following in the footsteps of her parents, both doctors, after all. But Batzorig wanted to expand her horizons beyond her native Mongolia, and began looking into opportunities to study abroad.

At the suggestion of a friend returned from studying in Taiwan, Batzorig started researching Taipei Medical University. TMU, she found, is one of Asia’s top ranked universities, with a solid reputation for medical research, education, and a supportive study and living environment. Batzorig applied for a Master’s program in Medical Science, and soon landed in Taipei where she was impressed by the friendliness of professors and students and the quality of university facilities.

As a doctor, Batzorig had focused on the clinical side of medicine, but the medical science program now had her buckling down in the lab working on hepatocellular carcinoma. “[As doctors] we usually see patients and prescribe medications. We’re really quite far from the experimental things.” Working with cancer cells was eye-opening, and challenging, but she learned quickly, and was asked during Master’s defense if she’d be interested in continuing studies at the PhD level.

The idea was planted in her mind, but didn’t take root quite yet. Batzorig returned to Mongolia and began a residency in dermatology. During the residency she was offered a chance to train back in Taiwan at National Taiwan University Hospital, where she ran into her previous supervisor. He suggested checking out TMU’s new International PhD in Medicine; a three-year program designed to help medical professionals from around the world hone their research skills. After completing her residency and a dermatopathology observership at Graz University in Austria, Batzorig flew back in Taiwan.

For the first year, she planned to focus her research on dermatology rather than cancer. But that would necessitate moving away from the lab, colleagues, and supervisor she’d become familiar with during her previous time at TMU. With the support of her colleagues, she decided to extend her skills beyond her previous experience. “It was a good decision” said Batzorig, “…to learn different things and open up career opportunities in different projects.”

Her research was aimed at the role of glucose-related protein 94 in the progression of colorectal cancer. The protein was already well-known in the context of treating liver and breast cancer, but its role in the lower digestive system was poorly understood.

The undertaking would prove a challenge, especially under pressure to complete it within the program’s expected timeframe, and required both resilience and encouragement. “We had to work all day, night, weekends, holidays… I felt so down when my experiments failed, but my supervisor said, ‘It’s just science. Don’t worry so much, just adjust the protocol and try again.”

Two years later, she’d discovered the detailed pathways through which GRP94 affects the invasiveness, migration, and proliferation of colorectal cancer. The next step is for drug developers to target the protein in clinical trials.

The research may have been difficult, but adjusting to life in Taiwan wasn’t. Batzorig found Taiwan safe, the locals friendly, and TMU’s location in the center of Taipei convenient. Classes were taught in English, and students were always quick to help with day-to-day communication needs.

And letting off some steam certainly helped. Batzorig took part in as many of TMU’s Office of Global Engagement activities as she could, as a chance to relax with other students and have fun. She was selected Director of Public Relations for the International Students’ Association, and organized activities for Diwali, movie nights, and student pot-lucks. Her group even won second place at the Trending Taiwan 2020 Short Film Competition. “I didn’t want to just stay at my lab all the time, I really needed a social life!”

Looking ahead, Batzorig has a list of plans that leverage her TMU education. Besides researching cancer and organizing social activities, she received training in medical AI and kept up with dermatopathology training at Mackay Memorial Hospital (one of only two dermatopathology training centers in Asia) where she is now a full-time fellow. After finishing training at Mackay, Batzorig plans to return to Mongolia and improve the nation’s dermatology and dermatopathology facilities and services, in cooperation with her colleagues in Taiwan.

Echoing her friend’s advice, Batzorig will be recommending the TMU experience to others, especially med students looking to get into research while keeping up with clinical training.

“Come to Taiwan,” she tells them, “It’s safe, we have so many opportunities besides the program, there are kind pupils, we can really have a great time here. Come if you have the chance!”

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