Having entered my 3rd decade of life and getting bombarded with information in medical school, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember my childhood. What I do remember though is my stepfather yelling and throwing things at me for not knowing how to translate letters. I remember my stepfather screaming at my mom as she wept silently. I remember him kicking her down the stairs as she was pregnant with my brother. I remember the years of abuse and the burden that was lifted off our shoulders when my mother mustered the courage to leave him. Life was strenuous after we moved in with my grandmother in her small apartment in Chinatown. My mother had limited English proficiency, worked 3 jobs to support us and I rarely got to see her, but we were much happier. At the age of 10, I learned to be independent, taking the bus by myself at 5AM and helping out around the apartment. The scars are still there, but time has healed our wounds.
The hardships I encountered growing up including financial difficulties, sexual assault and robberies by gunpoint, affected my health and sparked an interest in learning about and improving the lives of minorities in underserved communities. I took an Asian American Studies course in college for one of my general requirements. Like with any other class, I plopped my textbook down and braced myself for the massive amount of reading I was about to start. I wasn’t expecting to learn a lot because I’ve lived my life as an Asian American for 21 years at that point. Then I opened my textbook. I read one page, the second page.. the third page.. Little did I know, 5 minutes had passed.. then 1 hour. From Japanese internment camps to Vincent Chin, page after page left me shaking with anger. Up until that point, I had never had a textbook reduce me to tears and I knew I found one of my passions advocating for Asian Americans.
As I continued my education, I learned about the barriers that Asian Americans face in healthcare and related to them. I wanted to alleviate the health disparities and decided to pursue a Master of Public Health degree. During graduate school, I discovered another one of my passions – mental health. One of my family members was murdered and gang members began calling my family to track his assets. My family and I were afraid to go out and loud noises resembling gunshots made us jump. I struggled balancing my course work while fearing for my family’s safety. When I suggested that I may need to seek therapy, many of my family members and friends were supportive, but the elders were repulsed. They believed only “crazy people” needed therapy and their reactions elucidated how tabooed the topic of mental health was in the Chinese culture. Reflecting on my experiences, I realized my family faced many barriers, but we never discussed our mental health throughout the process. If someone did see a therapist, they kept that information to themselves in fear of being shamed or stereotyped as crazy. This realization sparked an interest in addressing mental health and in viewing health holistically in underserved communities.
As a medical student, I have been pursuing my interests while acquiring vital skills through the student organizations at the Medical College of Wisconsin as well as other extracurricular activities. I had the opportunity to work alongside passionate team members and invaluable faculty advisors to create change in the community. With the Psychiatry Student Interest Group, I worked to dispel stigma by putting on educational events including a suicide prevention training. As a manager of a student-run clinic, I was able to start a few new programs for our prehealth volunteers as well as bring in new services at the clinic such as free legal aid and psychiatry. For the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA), I worked with my team members to host free health screenings and advocacy and community events. I was very fortunate to have been able to have one of APAMSA’s founders, Dr. B Li, as our APAMSA advisor. I learned about his experiences starting APAMSA and advocating for Asian Americans. I also got the chance to work with Wisconsin’s Hmong refugee population and learned ways to tailor care for a vulnerable population who did not have written language until the 1950s, such as delivering health education through radio shows. In addition, I had opportunities to represent my medical school on a national level by presenting at different conferences. Back home, I was able to delve into community-based research, learning from Dr. Evelyn Ho as we worked closely with the Chinese population on diabetes and cardiovascular research.
It has been a pleasure serving as a leader in student organizations and I look forward to learning more about the underserved while positively impacting the community with other passionate leaders in the future. As a physician, I aim to work in an underserved Asian American community to dispel stigma and address health disparities by implementing public health interventions and clinical quality improvement projects. I am considering a dual residency program for Family Medicine and Psychiatry. As the primary care physician and first point of contact, I will be in the best position to provide holistic healthcare as well as address mental health in those who feel they cannot seek mental health services. In my role as a psychiatrist, I will be able to provide discreet services to those who fear the stigma as I will also be a primary care physician.
My achievements and tangible future would not have been possible without my support system. In addition to my family, my friends, and my advisors, I’d like to thank the Chinese American Physicians Society and all the generous donors for this scholarship. I am very honored to have been able to share my experiences with you. Thank you all for your attention and the inspirational work you do in the community.