For most of my life I have been interested in hearing disabilities, both personally and academically. In fourth grade, several months were devoted to education on deafness and the Deaf community, but it was not until later that year when I learned of my older brother's hearing difficulty that I appreciated what it means to be hard of hearing.
For as long as I can remember, my brother has had trouble understanding and remembering what is said to him. I thought he was just pretending to get out of doing chores. But when I was ten my parents explained to me that my brother had suffered anoxia (oxygen deprivation) while in utero, which damaged the auditory processing region of his brain.
His ears work perfectly, but his brain scrambles the information it gets from them. I learned to write out complicated directions, to speak slowly and clearly, and to avoid trying to talk to him unless he was looking at me. We didn’t have to learn a new language, but we did have to adapt the way our family communicated.
Both my academic interest in and a personal connection to hearing impairment have compelled me to lean ASL and to learn more about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community (DHHC). I feel that having this kind of training will help me communicate with deaf or hard of hearing patients, and may lead me to further specialize my research and clinical interests to benefit the DHHC. I am also in the Medical Scientist Training (MD/PhD) program, which will give me the opportunity to choose a graduate thesis project that in some way relates to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
I graduated from the University of California, Irvine in 2003 with a degree in Social Science, Public and Community Service. I had been involved with the Deaf community in high school, so when I learned about the fellowship program I knew that UCSD was where I wanted to go to school. My focus is primary care. My dream is to have a practice with bilingual and bicultural staff so that I can work with the Hearing and Deaf alike.
I was born in Beijing, China and moved to Sacramento when I was 9 years old. I went to college in Providence, RI at Brown University, where I concentrated in Neuroscience. I like to be outdoors, to play sports, to draw and paint, and to read. I can speak and understand Mandarin, and I have taken some courses in Spanish. Although I don’t have any experience in ASL or with deaf culture, I am really excited about this program.
I applied to the program because I really liked how it incorporates the language course with information on Deaf culture. I have always felt the importance of learning other languages, especially in preparation to becoming a physician, when knowing another language could be tremendously helpful for both the patient and myself. Also, I have seen the problems my parents have faced in getting quality healthcare as recent immigrants, and I would love to be able overcome some of those barriers through learning a language and becoming culturally aware.
Appreciating and understanding diversity has been an integral part of my life. Due to medical complications, I was the first and last homegrown child in my family. However, over the next 8 years we were lucky enough to become a foster family, taking in children ages newborn to mid-teens from a wide range of ethnicities and nationalities. We were also able to adopt 3 children resulting in our Heinz-57 family, with my sibling's ethnicities ranging from Native American and Mexican to Eskimo to Italian. My youngest brother, a foster child that we were able to adopt, came into our lives as a mute. In order to learn to communicate with our new brother, our family chose to take ASL. We frequently had "silent days" where the only form of allowed communication was ASL, allowing the family to walk in another's shoes for a day. Ultimately, ASL also helped me to stay in touch with my grandfather as he became progressively more deaf. ASL opened up new avenues of communication and allowed all of us to live as a complete and fully functional family. (On a side note: my brother turned out not to be deaf or mute. He just chose not to begin speaking until the ripe age of 9. As a result, I have lost much of my ASL knowledge but my desire to learn it remains strong.)
My most rewarding volunteer activity has been to serve as an EMT/medical volunteer with the non profit-organization, MEDICO (Medical Eye Dental International Care Organization) in Honduras. Spending 5 weeks during the last 3 years providing services to Hondurans in need, has been a life-altering experience. Last summer, I traveled to Isla de Tansín, a primitive Honduran island in the Caribbean Sea, where many of the Hondurans had never even seen white people before. Our group of fifteen volunteers provided basic medical, dental, optometric, and educational services to over 1500 people who had little access to these services. Accessible only by boat, there were no conveniences of any kind. There was, however, an abundance of faith, love and insects. On each of these trips, I am able to do work that truly makes a difference and in many cases saves lives.
In the medical clinic I have assisted in surgery, delivered babies, treated for worms and other parasites, and written and filled prescriptions. In the dental clinic, I was given a crash course in dental medicine before being given my own dental chair, where I gave nerve blocks, pulled teeth, dug out roots, and stitched wounds. In the optometric clinic we performed eye exams, administered eye drops, and filled prescriptions for glasses. Finally, we educated individuals and groups about the basic elements of hygiene, sanitation, lifestyle changes, and birth control. Through these experiences, I have learned that life is not about taking tests and earning grades. Life is about giving. Sometimes hope is the only thing you can offer, but isn't that what makes life worth living?
In former President Clinton's speech in February of 2003 at the University of Texas at Austin, he stated that "It is our moral imperative to make the'them' smaller, and the 'us' much bigger." This statement alone emphasizes the importance of our social responsibility as providers of health care to serve everyone in need. I have experienced in Honduras the communication difficulties between the English-speaking doctors and Spanish or Moskito-speaking patients. In addition, I have learned to appreciate what it is like for a physically impaired person to try to find compassion and solace in today's harsh and often brutal world. My ultimate goal is to be able to offer this compassion to needy people in America and abroad, so that health disparities can be reduced and barriers to health information and care can be broken. Combining medical school curriculum with training in ASL and deaf culture will help to bridge one of the current gaps in medical care and place doctors in the community that are better equipped to deal with a wider variety of patients. Personally, this combination of studies will not only provide a solid background in medicine but also the knowledge that will allow me to manage a successful practice serving the deaf and hard of hearing community (DHHC) in the future.
My interests may lie in a variety of areas, but one thing that may not have been as apparent is my great passion for life. When I put my mind to a task, I put all my energy behind it. Unlike the average person who gets on a plane and flies to see the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, or the Great Rockies, I got on my bicycle and rode to see them on a 66 day, ~4700 mi cycling trip. When I wanted to expand my horizons and help those truly in need, I went to remote villages in Honduras on medical missions. Within the DHHC training program, I will fully apply this passion inside me to improving the DHHC’s access to health care and information in the short and long term. Helping others is what drives me to be who I am.
Though I was born in Illinois, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 2 and consider Fremont, CA my hometown. I remained in the area for college, attending Stanford University where I majored in Human Biology. I graduated from Stanford in 2001 and, before beginning medical school, completed a research project focused on embryonic development. I have always been fascinated by the science of biology and, in part, this is what motivated my application to medical school.
However, much more important to my decision to pursue a medical career was a simple desire to help those in need. I cannot imagine a career that, for me, would be more rewarding than using my own skills to cure a sick individual or bringing a newborn baby into the world. I believe that the study of medicine is in many ways, a dedication to a life of service to others and I am eager to begin my own service. In particular, I am very excited to have the opportunity to learn to work with the Deaf Community in San Diego and throughout the United States. I believe that the Deaf represent an underserved community of incredibly significant size and importance and I am very excited to learn more about Deaf culture and to work with the Deaf to improve their interaction with the medical community.
My previous exposure to Deaf culture, while limited, is certainly not non-existent. My mother is legally blind and has spent her life working as an educator for the blind and visually impaired. In Fremont, she worked for the California School for the Blind, an institution that often works in cooperation with the California School for the Deaf. Thus, from an early age, I was introduced to both deaf and blind individuals. A large number of our closest family friends are involved with the deaf community (either as a Deaf individual or as a non-deaf teacher at CSD) and through them I have had a limited introduction to the culture created by the deaf. I am looking forward to becoming more actively involved in that culture.
When I started this program last year, I had no previous experience in American Sign Language (ASL) or any real knowledge regarding Deaf culture. My father lost a great deal of his hearing in his early thirties and subsequently became hard of hearing. However, my family had never been exposed to Deaf culture and we knew very little about ASL.
Whether I am learning ASL or interacting with members of the Deaf community, one thing remains constant: my amazement with this proud group of people who love being exactly what they are—Deaf. It is odd in that I joined this program hoping I could teach the Deaf community about cancer, but that I never realized how much they could teach me about life. I am glad that UCSD School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Treatment Center is trying to provide an increase in health care access and I am honored to be a part of the process.