BY: ROBERT FU
NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
I sat down with James on a lively Sunday afternoon during his dedicated Step 1 study time. He connected to our call to reveal a backdrop of stuffed animals and kpop posters on the wall. I had a feeling that this was not his room. As we began our conversation, James was open and candid. As we continued, we discussed everything from the engineering jungle of his childhood to his visions for medical policy in the future. Read on to find out more!
[APAMSA] So who are you?
[JAMES] I’m James Ting, a 2nd year at Hopkins, and I’m currently the Advocacy Chair for APAMSA.
What does the Health Advocacy Chair do?
My role encourages and facilitates the participation of medical students to get more involved in the political process. I think it’s super important and it’s under-recognized at this point in many people’s careers. I recently went to a meeting for our state society where we discussed ideas that we thought should be proposed to legislation and I think it’s really important for people to get involved even if it’s just getting informed about how the system works, especially when pertaining to healthcare and places we can provide input for.
What are some of the things you have done in this position?
So thus far I have been working to create a system where we can allow for APAMSA to develop a voice/united stance on specific issues. I think this is important since this organization represents such a large cohort of people. There’s such a diversity of people who can fall into this category. I think it’s important for an organization like APAMSA to create tools to help people get their voices heard. So if we do agree we can make it known that we feel that way. I think it’s important to have a system where we can see what people think and in what ways so we can avoid having people like a board just decide what they think their members think without finding out for real. I think it’s important that leadership have the tools to find that out to empower those who agree with a sentiment.
What do you do in your study breaks?
If I’m taking like a very short break I’ll watch like League of Legends highlights videos. They’re like 5-10 mins, a good small break. I’ll watch one TSM or CLG video and I’ll be done. If it’s a longer break I like to watch movies or tv shows. Silicon Valley, House of Cards, the occasional kdrama binge, etc.
If they were to make a highlight video of your life, who would you want to play you?
Hmmm, good question. Shoot, who’s the guy who plays the Harold and Kumar guy? He was in Star Trek?
Uhhhh I’m not sure, the moment I look it up I know I’ll realize I knew it all along.
Well I’d pick him, because he’s attractive so I gotta make up for what I don’t have right now
Ah John Cho. Yeah, him. There was actually this huge meme thing where they put his face on a lot of movie posters. Did you know that?
It was a huge thing, about like Asian American representation in Hollywood.
I’ll check them out then…
Tell me about life before med school
I grew up in an engineering family. Both my parents were engineers. For the longest time I figured I was going to go into engineering or be a physics professor or something like that. I went to an engineering high school, an engineering magnet school and so-
Geez where was this?
New jersey is like mad with magnet schools, they’re everywhere, it’s crazy. So I did like research at Princeton, I was like really gung ho about quantum mechanics and then I think I got a little disillusioned with it. I came to the realization that I just wasn’t smart enough, so I was like, okay whatever and went to undergrad thinking I’d do some combo of physics and bio since I felt like that’s a really grounded major and I could combine my interests. After like a year I found myself really favoring the bio/BME side of my interests. It also didn’t hurt that it was my best semester GPA when I started taking BME classes. I changed to be a BME major so I guess I flopped back to being somewhat in engineering.
When did you decide to go to med school?
Med school… hmm med school was sorta slowly warmed up for me. It was an ongoing process. In high school I shadowed and they were really great experiences, which was the only reason I even considered it. So I ended up choosing a college because I wanted to keep broad options open. When I volunteered at a physical rehab center and shadowed a dietitian, I had great experiences talking with patients and learning about their lives. That really helped keep that idea open despite all the engineering that was going on. I was learning about visual aids in nutrition counseling with that and back then I was super mind-blown at how innovative it was. I’m really interested now in bringing new ideas and finding new ways to help people. It got me really excited and this is pretty much where i am now
How did you get involved with APAMSA?
While I was at Yale I got involved in the Asian American cultural center because there was a webmaster position. I found the Asian American culture center to be a community I really wanted to be involved in, plus the webmaster position paid $$ so it was like amazing. The next year I became the head coordinator and got to interact with lots of other student organizations and learn about their experiences. Senior year we managed to organize a conference to showcase Asian American research, learn more, and to get involved with the issues. It was around then when I realized that Asian American representation really is inadequate. There was a point where I was like “Wow, I’m going to med school and there’s no way I can affect any change.” But then… wait what were you asking?
Uh, so how did you get involved with APAMSA?
Oh right, so! When I went to med school, I knew I wanted to stay involved with interest groups that represented AAPI med students since that was one of my motivations to get involved with public service. So this was something I wanted to always keep me grounded and rooted. I wanted to keep informed about what issues affect the AAPI population. So I went to the National Conference in Irvine knowing I wanted to be involved somehow. Unfortunately, I didn’t get elected for my 1st choice position… Or my 2nd... But the webmaster position was open so I went for that. Seriously it seems the webmaster position is always the gateway for me to get more involved with organizations. Being a part of the communications team was a great opportunity to see how the groups in APAMSA worked. I had a huge job with the website and how to improve it, of course with your help -
-but it also allowed me to be a part of all these conversations that let me learn about what APAMSA leadership looks like and what I wanted to see changed. So that really is what inspired one of my goals this year which is to allow for our membership to vote and unify if there is something to unify on. I noticed the leadership was unsure about how to pursue some things because they weren’t sure how our membership felt. It’s something I’m working on now because I want the people we represent to have a voice and I want APAMSA to be able to be utilized as that voice.
What’re you most proud of accomplishing with APAMSA so far?
This isn’t from any of my positions, but I’m really proud of creating the AAPI Advocacy Chair position. I’m glad that during the meeting, uh voting conference thing
….yes, that haha. So at the election there was so much interest we even expanded the position to two people. It was something I had thought of the summer before and really wanted to get involved with. Looking back now I’m really glad it got other people involved because now we have people as passionate about this issue involved and I’m still on the team to help out with the same efforts. So I’m grateful that so many people stepped up to work on what I started as a pet project.
If you weren’t pursuing medicine, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
How about I answer this question instead
Wow you really preparing for politics.
Haha so in college I used to go around saying “if I could live another life knowing that I still have this one to live, there would be 3 things I’d be interested in doing.” One was becoming a military surgeon. I think part of me thinks I’m still an adrenaline junkie and wants to be hands-on. In reading Atul Gawande’s “Checklist Manifesto” he talks about a lot of medical innovations that have come from the battlefield. I thought that was really interesting, like at that point something is better than nothing so people have to be creative. The second would be to be a marine biologist. I took a comparative anatomy class and in the lab we dissected salamanders, sharks, [redacted] and I learned a lot. One of my bucket list items is to go to Ecuador and live like Charles Darwin for a few days. The last one is to be a League of Legends coach. I don’t play many video games, League is probably the one I play the most. I think it’s super interesting because it’s like an elaborate game of chess that has more moving parts. It’s all artificial and that’s what’s so amazing to me. It’s not like football or soccer where there are actually physical limitations to what can or cannot be done. In League one thing could be changed and there’s all these mechanics and synergy that you can get super creative with and think strategically about and it’s super fascinating to me. I sense like a Hail Mary email to the Cloud9 sales team saying I’d be happy to work with their analyst team, but I’m bronze 2 so (background laughter is heard) I’m not very good at this game.
What do you think is the biggest problem with healthcare in general today?
This may or may not be a trap for my future political career
Haha. To me it’s something that’s become very prominent in news today, which is how we pay for healthcare. It’s something that I don’t have enough knowledge on so I’m still learning a lot about it. I think some people come to the issue with a solution in mind and approach the issue looking for evidence to support it so I want to learn more about it first. Like I think there are some tenants that should be followed, like that everyone should be covered and anything that removes coverage from people should be steered away from. There are some things that I have been involved with or seen that I feel have been going in the wrong direction, but I don’t feel like I have an answer as to what ultimately is the right solution. The nuance is the focus of what I think is significant.
What’s a first world problem you’re dealing with at the moment?
I’m not been able to get 9 hrs of sleep every night and that’s what I need. I don’t know what the problem is, maybe I have sleep apnea and should get that checked out, but yeah that’s the problem.
Somehow step 1 has been helpful for that since I can control my schedule with study, break, and sleep times to make sure I get it. BUT if I have to adjust it and I get 8 hrs of sleep one night I actually feel terrible the next day so.. It happens. Idk how i’m going to survive surgery.
You won’t really have a choice
What do you do to de-stress?
I used to really enjoy practicing kendo, but I haven’t been able to do that recently. My practice partners and I have been getting busy and some injuries got in the way. It’s a huge destresser because you’re in there and you’re just yelling and sweating and you get physically exhausted and it’s great.
Have you ever cried in a movie?
Yes, I have cried a lot and in a lot of movies
Which one do you think made you cry the most?
Oh, the movie “3 Idiots” made me cry the absolute most. Initially I was thinking Big Hero 6, and I’ve cried in a lot of movies, like Pixar movies, Disney movies, but I cried like two times in that one. Y’know because in most movies they climax and that’s where you cry cuz you’re like, omg this is what the entire movie was leading up to. But that movie made me cry in like two different instances within 3 hours
That’s a really long movie
Yeah it was like a fake bollywood movie, like a pseudo one because it makes fun of bollywood tropes but yeah it was really good, I’ve watched it like 3 times now
That’s like 9 hrs of your life
But it was worth it dude
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
I have a tattoo of 3 EKG beats on my side. Primarily because I shadowed a family friend in cardiology and it really contributed to me going into medicine and 3 is my lucky number.
When do you feel the most creative?
Probably when I’m taking a shower or the 5 mins before i go to bed.
Any memorable accomplishments in those 2 times?
[literal 45 second pause]...no.
I don’t know, these are always small things, like… I don’t know, an acronym for something I come up with or maybe a present I’m trying to get someone for Christmas it’ll usually come then, or something. Yeah.
If you could steal credit for any song/film/book, which one would you claim?
I’m gonna say… The Giver. I really liked it growing up. Another one of my life aspirations is to write a sci fi novel and I think the giver really sparked my interest in sci fi. And it’s not like it’s your typical sci fi novel so it’s really interesting. Also I actually read it twice when I was in middle school and that’s like the book every 6th grade had to read, so if everyone has to read it then everyone’s going to know your book so I’d claim that.
If you could have anyone in the world make you dinner, who would it be?
I’m generally not very picky for my food, so this summer I ate at 3-
You and the number 3 again
Haha this one’s just a coincidence, but there’s a list of top 50 restaurants in the world and it’s not the one by Michelin, there’s like another one, like 50toprestaurants.com or something, it’s legit despite its name
Not gonna say anything
Haha anyway 3 of them were in Lima where I was at this summer, so I went to all of them. It was really fun eating at them because there were a lot of courses and each one is basically a piece of artwork. It was just fun to see it and take photos of it so I don’t know who but… oh, Jiro, Jiro is the one i’d want, that guy. The dreams of sushi guy, because it’s a similar multiple course thing. That movie is pretty cool, that guy’s gone through decades of training and he’d have a lot to say
Anything you would like to say to our members and readers?
I feel like at every major milestone in my life I’ve experienced uncertainty. But looking back to like when I was 15 keeps me grounded with how far I’ve come. Back then, I think I had pretty low expectations about what I would do in life. I still feel like that sometimes, but I think I’m now going in a direction where I’ve accomplished things that I’m proud of. I think me as a 15 year old would be astonished to know. So yeah, what I would say is that if you’ve gotten to this point, don’t feel like you need to go change your expectations - something is already working. It might not feel like it’s working, but something’s there so keep at it.
Thank you, James, for spending some of your rare Step 1 break time to talk with us! To get in touch with James and learn more about Advocacy at APAMSA, get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.