BY: ROBERT FU
NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
With over 4000 members in more than 80 chapters, keeping tabs on APAMSA’s membership is a tough task. Samantha Wu, one of our National Membership Directors, has the job of starting and maintaining those relationships with the chapters. Sitting down with Samantha [on the internet], she recounted her experiences from blindly joining APAMSA, revitalizing her local chapter, and taking on a national role in the organization. But what she recounts most fondly was her campaign for turtle liberation.
Introduce us to yourself, what is your position in APAMSA?
"My name is Samantha Wu, I’m a 4th year med student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and I am National APAMSA’s co-membership director."
What does the co-membership director do exactly?
"There’s two of us, I’m more in charge of new chapters, chapters that re-initiate, and I keep track of all the current chapters and their statuses"
What do you think is the hardest part of your position?
"We’re all busy med students, so it’s really difficult at times to keep in touch with people. That’s why there is a membership director role to begin with. We try to make sure chapters stay active and are active in their communities and we try to make sure that they know they have support here and that we’re here for if they need help for whatever. New chapters in particular sometimes have a hard time getting the ball rolling if they don’t have a foundation set yet, so we try to help get them set up and going. Since all of this is via telecommunication, I haven’t met most of them in person so I’m talking with them on video conference or telephone, but mostly email. It’s very easy for them to focus on school and other things and fall out of touch with us and it’s kind of difficult to maintain constant communication."
In your free time, what kind of media do you like to consume?
"That’s tough, probably depends on my mood. I’m a big fan of Pandora and dancing in the room. I probably have Pandora on at every free moment possible. Getting up, showering, breakfast, etc. The stations vary vastly as well. So… music."
In that case, if someone were to write a song about you, who would you want to write it?
"Probably my mom? Only because she knows me, so she could actually write from the heart."
In what style?
"Hmmm probably like a country love song."
So your mom as early Taylor Swift?
"Only the early one, not the current one. Not that I don’t like the current one."
Tell me about your life before med school.
"I was actually pre-law at Cornell. I did a pre-health post bac and did some post grad science work before medical school. I didn’t know what kind of healthcare I wanted to go into, so I actually worked in an optometrist's office and as an orthodontist's assistant at some point as well. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a dentist or optometrist or something. I eventually decided on medicine because I liked the option of doing other things instead of just eyes and teeth."
What inspired you to go into healthcare?
"I always wanted to serve under-served populations and I thought pre-law would be the best way to do it. I actually studied Asian studies and “law and society” thinking I would focus on immigration law and I studied urban planning in the architecture school, which is very under-served focused. I thought putting them together would work towards the same goal as helping people in need and the under-served so I thought it was a good course of study. But then I realized I wanted to help people in a way that’s like really necessary. Not that a lawyer doesn’t, but like in a way that I could help literally any person anywhere"
In what way was that?
"Like, life and death is essential to the human experience and I wanted to be a part of that so I thought that a better way to help people would be medicine. Also I really like science, like I realized I didn’t want to read and write all day long, and I find science really interesting so I wanted to learn more about that"
What are some hobbies of yours? Besides medicine.
"I do ski-patrol here at school. We’re the ones who wear the red and yellow jackets that monitor the ski slopes and stuff. It’s quite cold and long winters in northern Michigan so I’ve taken great joy in outdoor snow activities in my free time."
Did you start doing those things when you went to Michigan?
"I used to snowboard a ton before med school. Not skiing though, I did a little bit of skiing as a kid but I’ve done it a lot more now here."
How did you choose the medical school you went to?
"Throughout college and my time between, I really wanted to focus on helping the under-served. One of the great things about Michigan State is it’s a community based med school"
What does that mean, a “community based” med school?
"So basically the medical school was built to make doctors who would work in various communities. Michigan as a state is really diverse. You’ve got areas like Detroit, a huge metropolitan city, and Flint, which you know has the water crisis, or you can drive 8 hrs north and get to the upper peninsula which is very rural, so there’s just vastly different types of medicine right there just looking at the populations. Michigan State has 7 campuses all over the state. So 3rd and 4th year we pick which campus we want to learn from and they’re very focused on serving their populations."
Is that idea in general what attracted you to these types of programs?
"Yeah Michigan State wasn’t the only one that was focused on the under-served and community based. There was basically a set of schools that matched these focuses. I really like the environment and attitude of Michigan State so it was everything I wanted in one place which is why I chose it."
How did you get involved with APAMSA?
"So my big sib when I just started at MSU- "
"We have big sibs, like a mentoring program, a second year that they match you with based on your interests. She had just restarted APAMSA at Michigan State. The national conference, which was maybe 3 weeks after school started, was an hour away at University of Michigan. So she was like “join APAMSA” and I was like ok, and then she was like “come with us to this National Conference thing” so I was like yeah I’ll come. So we were sitting there at the conference and nobody was running for regional director of our Midwest region so she nudges me and is like “Sami, do it!” Basically I was peer pressured into running for it so I became a regional director.
I also eventually became president of the local chapter of APAMSA and that was great. I felt like I was able to get people who I don’t think would’ve gotten involved in APAMSA to start participating. That was a great experience. It’s just fun. Especially since at Michigan a lot of the people who were interested in international health were not from Michigan. So a lot of people who were from Michigan who hadn’t had much exposure to these issues have gotten to learn a lot, which was really cool for me. I came from California and went to Cornell and then came to Michigan, where there's not a large population. Like I don’t think people knew here that hep b was a big deal with Asian patients compared to like in California I think most people know that, so it was good to get even a couple people who didn’t know that before informed about something new."
How did you end up being on national board?
"It was cool seeing the organization grow throughout the years so I wanted to try something different and find out more about the avenues of it so I chose to be sponsorship director. I had done a lot of fundraising throughout my volunteer experiences through the past, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to contribute to APAMSA. This year, I decided to be membership director specifically because it was going to be my last year and I thought it would be nice to get people involved in APAMSA before I left. I would be able to interact with people all over the nation and I would get the full, broad taste of APAMSA from everywhere. It was fun going out to regional conferences and meeting people throughout the country, compared to my first two years which was mostly with people in the midwest, and it was nice this year to go to new York and meet more people and branch out my APAMSA network."
In all your time on APAMSA, what are you most proud of accomplishing?
"Thinking back, I’ve watched this organization grow so much in these past years. I’m really proud of its progress and I’m proud to be part of that. I mean it’s so official now, so professional, we do such good work, and to see great leaders that have come and grown to help build this organization really is amazing to watch and I’m really lucky to be part of it. It’s crazy to see how much we’ve grown. Like the website - thinking about the website from back in the day and then looking at it now, it’s awesome now. Not that it wasn’t awesome before, but it’s so professional now, I think we’ve done such a great job. Y’know as membership director I get contacted by people who are from medical schools I hadn’t heard of and they want to join APAMSA because they went on our website and they read what we’re all about and want to join. All through our website! It’s pretty cool. It’s also really cool that it’s run by medical students that don’t have time."
When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like much of a selling point
"Haha you have to remember that we’re not professionals yet and it’s a very large organization and if you look at what all these chapters do across the nation it’s amazing work. So many community events and health fairs and stuff. Lots of stuff that help communities all over the place. So I’ve been proud to be a part of it."
What do you think is the most pressing APA issue?
"This is not just an apa issue, more of a national one, but that we're made up of so many groups of people yet our health care guidelines are not population specific. I think the biggest issue is not having enough resources or guidelines for the APA population. Like, Screen at 22 is a perfect example (diabetes). How many people do you think were missed because normal bmi for an Asian person might be different for a non-asian person? I think we need, globally, to have more specific health care research for specific populations. People like APAMSA who do work for the specific population can be one of the ones who lead this kind of effort."
What is your vision for national APAMSA?
"I want to see it grow. I want to see more stability – a lot of it has to do with having individuals who are passionate about continuing it. We need to keep people actively participating and passionate about these issues. I think it starts with letting people know and keeping them involved on issues that can be worked on. Maybe since I’m membership director I see chapters coming in and fading out during the year. The problem is, if people don’t know there’s an issue to address, it’s hard to draw them in to participate and keep them wanting to help. Every chapter has their own unique identity, so it’s hard to require everyone to do things to keep them involved, so it’s hard to keep everyone active and involved in their own ways."
If someone asks you to tell a fun story about your life, what story do you default to?
"So at the local china town near me growing up they would sell turtles for people to use in like turtle soup. So I would go Chinatown and buy these turtles for like 5 bucks and go to Stone Lake in Golden Gate Park and release them. I used to also buy the fish and release them but I’m pretty sure we were just feeding the other fish. We did that until at some point they didn’t let you take the turtles live probably because they realized people were keeping them as pets so I couldn’t do it anymore."
Maybe it was because they weren’t licensed to sell pets?
"Maybe? But I was thinking maybe I wasn’t the only one that’s releasing them into the wild. I could’ve changed the ecosystem in Golden Gate Park maybe haha. Because we probably released at least like 20, maybe more. We used to do it a lot. I still remember doing that as a kid. Err not just as a kid, I did it for a long time. Until they didn’t allow us to anymore."
If you could go far back and redo anything but medicine, what would you be?
"I probably would’ve been a teacher. Like, I feel like medicine is teaching, which is why I want to do it. Every patient you have, you teach them so much about whatever is going on. A lot of people don’t know what’s happening physiologically with them with what they’re coming in with so I feel like we’re always teaching everyday so that’s probably why I chose that."
A penguin walks into your room right now wearing a sombrero, what does he say and why is he there?
"He says “it’s nice to see you again, I missed you” because that’s totally a friend I would have to hang out with."
That was an incredibly decisive and much more coherent response than I was expecting.
"No really! I love penguins and I love fiestas, I’m pretty sure he’d be a friend of mine."
What do you do to de-stress?
"Play the piano. I have a baby grand piano in my living room that I like to play."
Wow that’s hardcore
"I actually hated lessons growing up. I only took them because my mother forced me to because she liked hearing it. I am so very grateful that I know how to play now because it’s probably the best stress relief I’ve had in med school."
What’s something you’ve done that only you would find amusing?
"That’s a lot of things haha.
I have a little goose friend lives on the beach. There’s this one beach I always go to that’s right by my school. I go run there, eat lunch there, watch the sunset there and I would see this goose there sometimes. I haven’t seen him there probably for about a year and he showed up again the other day and I couldn’t believe he was there! That’s why I took a picture (below) I found that really amusing."
What advice would you give your 15 year old self?
"I ummm I don’t think I’d give myself any advice. You know, I think I am the person I am today because of all the good and bad experiences I’ve had. I’m happy where I am and I think you grow and learn lessons from the mistakes you make in the past. I wouldn’t want to not make the mistakes I made because I might not be who I am today."
If you could steal credit for any song/film/book, which one would you claim?
"Ender’s Game. I want credit for Ender’s Game."
"It’s genius, it’s a genius book. I think it’s full of good ideas, great entertainment, and there’s huge character development like there’s a lot of characters in it in such a short amount of time. I read it when I was younger and I don’t think I realized or understand the empathy until I got older and read it again. Like, when I was young it was just a cool book, but when I read it again there was so much deeper and more intense than I had seen when I was younger. I love all those books in that series."
Do you have anything to say to the members/readers of APAMSA
"I would just want to thank everyone for all their hard work and for making this organization so great. It’s not an individual thing, it’s a collective collaborative effort of all our hard work. We all do our parts and it’s great to see what we can accomplish together. Honestly, it’s crazy to see such a large org being run by so few people at the national level. Its pretty amazing. We have such great leaders who are inspired and passionate to make a difference really doing a good job and really keeping this train going."
Thank you, Samantha, for taking the time to share your story with us! You can reach Samantha regarding her APAMSA responsibilities at email@example.com