1) Describe your academic path to medical school.
In college I majored in Molecular and Cell Biology and minored in Japanese, taking Japanese language classes all four years. During college, I participated in scientific research through my school’s Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program for several years, first in an Organic Chemistry lab and then a Plant and Microbial Biology Lab. However, my lab commitments at the time were not extensive at all (maybe 6-8 hours/ week), and instead I used most of my time to be actively involved in other ways on campus, such as through leadership in student groups and through teaching. At that time, the MCAT was only offered twice a year, once in April and once in August. I took the MCAT in the spring of my junior year, studying concurrently with my other classes. I then applied in the summer of my fourth year as most traditional applicants would and spent that year interviewing. In the spring, after I had gotten an acceptance to my medical school, I also found out that I had gotten a position to work as a Coordinator of International Relations in Japan. For me this opportunity was a dream come true, so I wrote to my medical school and asked to defer admissions for one year. My school was very supportive of my request. Japan was an amazing experience. I arrived back in the U.S. three days before orientation and started med school!
2) When and how did you know you wanted to go into medicine?
Rather than experiencing any one big epiphany, I formed my decision gradually. I have broad interests and enjoyed all my classes in high school, but I decided to major in science as I was fascinated by the cellular mechanisms that explain life, and I wanted to learn more about the scientific processes behind these expanding discoveries. Many students change their majors in college, but I found that I really loved my choice and continued with it. My classes and my research experiences helped me realize my passion and continued
interest in science; however, I was most fascinated by science’s potential applications for effecting immediate change, such as in the clinical realm. Meanwhile my experiences volunteering at a hospital helped me realize that I wanted direct patient interaction where I could clinically take care of patients, serving as a resource for them while I tackled the problems of diagnosis and treatment to help restore their health. I liked that medicine was the perfect combination of science and opportunities to work directly with people. I also loved that medicine was a field where I could truly feel useful, as health is essential to people from all walks of life and
healthcare is needed everywhere in the world. As medicine is a huge commitment, I was cautious about my decision at first. I did not officially decide until probably late in my sophomore year. At that point, I had really thought about different factors and options and realized that medicine was the best fit for my interests and personality type.
3) Why and how did you choose the medical school you go to?
Ever since I was a child, I had heard of Johns Hopkins and knew that it had a long history and was famous for its clinical excellence. Knowing it was a great school, I applied but was almost not planning to go because I had heard rumors of it being a competitive, unfriendly place. Fortunately, my medical school interview completely changed my impression. I met students and faculty members and felt that the environment was a supportive and fun one that was different from what was portrayed in the rumors. Intuition told me that I would be happy at Hopkins, and I’m very glad I made that choice!
4) Why and how did you get involved in National APAMSA?
I had participated in APAMSA events during my first year of medical school and became co-president of my school chapter in the second year. I attended my first National Conference that year, presenting my school’s bid to host the following year’s conference. I remember feeling impressed and inspired not only by the talks at the National Conference but by other medical students and other chapters. The Conference encouraged me to continue to get more involved in APA health issues not only in the future as a physician but as a medical student. I had not even thought about joining the National Board before attending the meeting but I talked to some current officers at the meeting and decided to run for the open position of Community
Outreach director as I was particularly interested in this meaningful aspect of APAMSA. I have since been re-elected twice and have really enjoyed working with APAMSA chapters and officers, who show amazing leadership and dedication to service.
5) What do you think is the most pressing APA health issue?
Though there are many, one important APA health issue is the development of head and neck cancer and other sequelae of tobacco use.Though tobacco is less popular in the U.S., most Asian countries still see widespread use, and there is less public awareness about tobacco’s dangers. In Asian communities in the U.S., many patients suffer from diseases including destructive cancers that occur as a result of smoking. It is very unfortunate considering that such diseases could potentially be prevented.
6) What other hobbies or passions are you interested in besides medicine?
I love the arts, especially music and theater. I play piano, write songs, and sing in my school’s a capella group. I act in local theater and film productions, most recently performing in a play at the Wilmington Fringe Festival and also a performance at Penn State University. I also watch plays and musicals whenever I can! Fortunately Baltimore has a lot of options for theater, and I am also not far from New York.
I am also very interested in language and cross-cultural communication. Having grown up with Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, I studied Japanese very seriously throughout high school and college and worked in Japan for a year as a Coordinator of International Relations upon graduating from college. I loved that the job allowed me to plan events and programs that would help others learn more about cultures different from their own. I now get to continue my interests as a medical interpreter, and I enjoy being able to help patients and their careproviders overcome communication barriers and understand each other.
7) What advice would you give any pre-medical students wanting to get into medical school?
First of all, be yourself. Continue to do what you love and don’t think that you have to have a certain hobby in order to fit in. Med students come from a lot of different backgrounds and interests. I’ve met professional chefs, rowers, political science majors, and much more! Technically, you can have studied anything you want before med school. However, be sure to study at least the prerequisite science courses that most schools want. Whatever your major, an additional upper-division biology course would also not be bad because the ability to at least understand molecular biology, genetics, etc. can help you a lot once you get to med school. Remember that APs basically don’t count for these prerequisites, so don’t try to get by on them. Even if your university accepts APs, chances are that the med schools won’t.
It is important to do some kind of research to show that you are academically oriented and can investigate something new. You don’t have to have published anything, you are not required to put in crazy hours (though a steady commitment is probably important), and it doesn’t have to even be in a science-related field. However, if you happen to be able to get a publication out of your research doing college and bring it to fruition, it will be helpful for the future as well and admissions committees will value your ability to participate in an intellectual project. Though I did not personally do this, talk to your PI to see if there is a smaller project that you could take
leadership on and perhaps present or publish. Also, no matter what your major is, it’s very important to have had some kind of clinical experience, whether that be through volunteering, working in a doctor’s office, shadowing, etc. You have to show the medical schools (and yourself!) that you truly understand what it means to take care of patients and to be in a clinical setting. For your personal statement and interviews, be able to articulate why you chose medicine over many other fields that “help people.” Think to yourself, why not a nurse? or a teacher? or a firefighter? What distinguishes medicine from some of these other great jobs is that you are applying science to diagnose and treat patients clinically. Because science, research, and patient care are all important components, it’s important that you’ve verified whether you enjoy these aspects or not.
8) What do you wish you had known before entering into medical school?
As you study for classes in the first two years of med school, do relevant practice questions from either a Step 1 Qbank or book. Not only will this help you prepare for you school’s exams, you’ll be able to start understanding what Step 1 questions are like. This will make your exam studying much easier. I did not do this but wish I had. You will have a relatively more flexible schedule in the first two years, so go ahead and meet physicians in different specialties, shadow, and do research with them. You will not have time to rotate through all the specialties so some early networking with mentors can help you narrow down your career choices and then choose your subsequent rotations accordingly. It’s never too late to switch to a specialty, but it will make your life easier if you have an idea earlier. You don’t have to wait to find your specialty before doing research with that specialty. Research in any kind of specialty will still be a useful learning experience.
9) Describe a typical day at school.
It varies by school. Generally for the first two years of med school, we had class, consisting of large hall lectures mixed with some small-group discussions, labs, etc. On clinical rotations, you work alongside the residents. In the mornings, you may see the patients you are following (“prerounding”), write a note about them, etc. You’ll participate in team rounds where the entire team, including you and the residents and the attending or chief, visit all the inpatients. You might be responsible for presenting the patient to the team, either their entire history if it’s a new admit, or just the latest news and physical exam findings. The rest of the day would consist of taking care of patients and getting them the appropriate tests, etc. if it’s a medicine-style rotation and OR cases if it’s a surgery rotation. Usually schools will still have you attend some kind of lectures or small-group sessions during your rotations.
10) How do you handle the stress of medical school?
I try to make time for the people and hobbies that I love. You will never truly be “free” in medical school, so you have to learn how to be an adult and balance work and play. I still go to dinner with friends, attend local festivals, participate in hobbies I love like theater and music, volunteer, and much more! The key is to be responsible and also set aside time for studying and work.
11) What do you think is the biggest problem with health care today?
Rising health care costs. Most people don’t know how much anything in health care costs. Neither providers nor patients are good at choosing how to use costs efficiently, and with the current system, there is not really a direct incentive to save, making the problem worse.
12) What are your future goals in life?
I am in my last year of medical school and hope to be a plastic surgeon. I would most likely like to stay in academics where I can focus on research and teaching along with clinical responsibilities. While I am open to all aspects of plastic surgery and look forward to the mix of cases that I’ll train to do, I would consider additional training in hand, face, and/or microsurgery. The hand and face are particularly anatomically interesting. I like that there is relevance to reconstructive transplantation, which I did a year of research in.
Most importantly, I hope to be happy. I hope to have a family and be able to enjoy life and spend time outside of work with loved ones.
13) What is your vision for National APAMSA?
I am encouraged by the great work that National APAMSA does each year. I hope that APAMSA through the years will become even more established and gain more recognition as a student group. I’ve been glad to be a part of establishing the Community Outreach Initiative for the past three years. My hope for COI is that we’ll be able to continue disbursing grants to encourage service activities. I would love to see increased participation in COI and an expanded database where people can learn from other chapters when planning their own outreach work.
14) What do you think stood out on your application?
I was involved in a lot of activities outside of school and most importantly I was able to talk about each of these with clarity and enthusiasm at my interviews. Most of my activities were things that I truly loved and I was able to explain why and what I learned from them. I also did have an excellent GPA which helped, but I think the
most important thing for me was that admissions committees were able to get to know me as a person and see that I was excited about medicine and beyond.