Meet MCRI: Dr Valerie Sung

Dr Valerie Sung is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Community Health Services Research

Tell us about your research

I am involved with many different research studies at MCRI. My two main projects are focused on children with hearing loss and infant colic – excessive crying.

My first project, the Victorian Childhood Hearing Impairment Longitudinal Databank (VicCHILD), aims to advance research about childhood hearing loss.

A databank is a special kind of research database. It helps to find eligible children for research projects, quickly answer questions that need large numbers of participants and shows how children's health outcomes can change over time. So far, we have had more than 680 children with hearing loss join our databank. This makes it the largest of its kind in the world!

For my PhD thesis, I ran the world's biggest trial of a probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri for treating infant colic. I then led a study with international collaborators to clarify the probiotic's effectiveness. We found the probiotic to benefit some breastfed babies with colic, but there is not enough information to say whether it works for formula-fed babies with colic. Now my colic research looks at how crying babies are being managed by health professionals.

What are you hoping to achieve through the work that you're doing/what is your ideal goal?

My goals are to help families of children with hearing loss and also parents of newborns who are going through the stress of their babies' crying.

Children with hearing loss still face many challenges despite early diagnosis and incredible advances in technology. My ultimate goal is to help each child with hearing loss reach their full language and developmental potential and receive the best care possible. I hope to give families accurate information about what the hearing loss means for their child's future and also help them avoid unnecessary tests and medical appointments. One day, I would like to help discover a reversible cause of hearing loss that can be treated!

Families of crying babies often receive confusing or conflicting advice about how to manage their baby's crying. I hope to increase awareness, within health professionals and the wider community, of accurate and evidence-based information on strategies to manage crying. This will help these families cope better and also reduce the need to look for treatments that don't work.

What is the biggest achievement of your career?

My biggest career achievement so far is being acknowledged worldwide for my PhD work, and knowing that my PhD results can change how health professionals all over the world manage crying babies. For my PhD, I was very lucky to have been awarded the Dean's Award for Excellence in a PhD Thesis in 2016 by the University of Melbourne, and also the Society for Pediatric Research Student Research Award at the US Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in 2013.

What do you love about working at MCRI?

I love the people who work at MCRI – they bring so much joy, energy and positivity to the workplace, and they are all so inspirational in the work they do! I look forward to going to work every day, and I am very lucky to be working in such a supportive and nurturing workplace!

What makes you passionate about child health?

I love being able to help children and their families through my clinical work as a paediatrician, and also through the impact of carrying out important research that can change their lives. I particularly love working with children because they are so resilient and radiate with happiness when they are thriving and well!

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

I was invited to become a professional musician when I was 16. But instead of choosing to do that, I chose to leave my family in Hong Kong and complete my last two years of high school as a boarder in Australia. Without our parents in Australia, I looked after my little brother like a mother. That experience really shaped me into who I am today!

What do you like doing when you're not working?

I love watching and listening to my children play and quarrel, as well as take them to the park or on bike rides. Just the other day, one of my children played a piano duet with me – it brought me so much joy! I used to cycle and swim a lot, but now with the juggles of work and being a mum, it's really hard to find time!