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To mark a new family milestone, UNSW medical graduates and PhD students Emily He and Louis Wang decided to submit their doctoral theses on the same day, accompanied by their children.

Dr He, a gastroenterologist, and Dr Wang, a cardiologist, first met as medical students at UNSW in 2001 and married in 2007.

For her PhD, Dr He conducted research at Cancer Council NSW and the Prince of Wales Clinical School aimed at improving bowel cancer screening tests in Australia. Dr Wang helped pioneer high frequency echocardiography in Australia and its use in elucidating an important mechanism for heart failure at the St Vincent’s Clinical School and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

“We thought it would be nice for both of us to submit our theses together and share this milestone with each other and our family,” says Dr He.

The day was made extra special with their daughter, Charlotte, and son, Alexander, who turn 6 and 3 respectively this year, also there to witness the occasion.

“Our eldest is old enough to understand how much work had gone into both our theses in the past few years,” says Dr He, who gave birth to Alexander during her PhD candidacy.

“Coming home at the end of each working day to their smiling faces was and will always be for us our greatest inspiration,” says Dr Wang.

During her PhD, Dr He was the inaugural recipient of the White-Walker Cancer Research Scholarship and spent half a year at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford under the supervision of Dame Professor Valerie Beral.

More than 4000 Australians die from bowel cancer each year and more than 17,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2018. Early detection of bowel cancer is crucial to increase the chances of successful treatment.

Dr He says she decided to carry out a PhD so she could work on projects to improve bowel cancer control in Australia that combined her clinical knowledge and experience as a gastroenterologist with her research skills.

“It was a natural fit for me to conduct research aimed at providing a comprehensive evidence-based framework for bowel cancer control.”

Her supervisors were renowned leaders in cancer research at UNSW  Professor Robyn Ward and Associate Professor Karen Canfell, who is Director of the Cancer Research Division at Cancer Council NSW.

“It was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to work with such inspirational supervisors and an experience that I will always treasure,” she says.

Dr Wang is a past recipient of the University Medal in Medicine at UNSW. He completed cardiology specialist training at St Vincent’s Hospital and benefited enormously from the supervision of leading cardiologists and cardiovascular researchers at UNSW and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. They included Professor Diane Fatkin, Professor Michael Feneley, Professor Christopher Hayward and Dr Jane Yu, who encouraged him to perform translational research in heart failure pathogenesis using high frequency echocardiography.

For his research, Dr Wang was an American Heart Association Young Investigator Award finalist and a NSW Young Tall Poppy in 2017.

Dr He has recently been awarded a prestigious Churchill Fellowship and plans to investigate effective next-generation methods of bowel cancer screening in Michigan in the US and at the University of Oxford. She will also continue working with Professor Canfell and the Cancer Council NSW in improving bowel cancer screening in Australia.

The path towards completing both PhDs on time was a real team effort, with the couple crediting the unwavering support of both their families.

“Our parents are the real unsung heroes. Without their enormous help, none of this would have been possible,” says Dr He.