The Student Spotlight is a glimpse into the lives of McMaster medical students through portraits and storytelling. The goal is to highlight the wonderful diversity of our student body.
Meet Yuchen (Richard) Tang, 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian from Vancouver, BC
Some of Richard’s favourite things…
Hobby: Running, eating, sleeping
Book/piece of literature: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and the entire series of Harry Potter
Movie: Kung Fu Panda series
Song/album/artist: Girl Talk — All Day album
Character/superhero: Dr. Cox from Scrubs
– Traveling to a totally foreign province
– Living independently for the first time
– Participating in a variety of clinical experiences
– Getting directly involved in patient care early on in training
– Constant struggles with feelings of inadequacy (a.k.a. Imposter Syndrome)
– Having no summer breaks, rapid progression of each module, along with scheduling far too many clinical experiences, lead to the occasional burn out
– Homesickness, especially in the context of no summer breaks to visit BC
– “Ontario is far too cold for a coastal BC kid like myself.”
I have practiced martial arts for many years in Taekwondo, Wing Chun, MMA and Krav Maga. I more-or-less stopped 2 years ago due to busy schedules and an increasing concern for head injuries (especially in high contact styles like MMA and Krav), but am looking to find time for it once again.
His Unexpected Journey to Medicine
Growing up, Richard never really thought about pursuing medicine as a career. “There was no one in my family who pursued a medical career, nor were there any role models to look up to.” In high school, Richard was turned away from pursuing any sort of science profession due to a science teacher who repeatedly told him that he was a “sub-par student”.
“I did not even bother taking any classes in Chemistry or Biology until the end of Grade 11 when I suddenly had a change of heart and decided to pursue medicine. I subsequently crammed all the science pre-requisites for a BSc Program over the remaining 2 summers. I applied and was accepted into the UBC Honors BSc program in Cellular, Anatomical and Physiological Sciences (we just called it Physiology to avoid getting tongue-tied). During the summer of Year 2 undergrad, I decided to write the MCAT on a whim, did well, and decided to proceed with med school applications once I received my score.”
Having decided at the very last minute to apply to medical school, Richard did not feel well prepared for the process. “I did not even realize I need to prepare reference letters until a medical student asked me who I was going to choose as my referees. Ultimately, my tardiness left me unable to apply to every school in Canada except one — McMaster University Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.” Richard realized that the odds of getting into an Out Of Province (OOP) medical school was very slim (10% maximum interviewee spots for OOP and International students combined). However, he still attempted at applying to Mac, just to familiarize himself with the process and to get used to the whole CASPer and MMI interview structure.
“Long story short from that point onwards: I got invited to attend an interview, was fortuitously offered a spot in the class of 2018 shortly after, and now here I am.”
What inspired you to choose this journey?
“Last year of high school, an alumna studying in a BSc program returned to speak to the graduating class. She polled the whole class on who wanted to go to medical school. One third of the class (myself included) tentatively raised their hands. This alumna subsequently told us that most of us should reconsider because we would probably never get in since medical school is reserved for the smartest of the smart students. Her dismissive attitude drew out some degree of ire and defiance in me, and I decided to pursue a medical career despite her ominous warnings. I still think about that day occasionally, to remind myself how far I have come since then, and sometimes wonder about where I might have gone had I believed in her words
If I were able to deliver a similar speech to the graduating class of my high school now (admittedly a bit difficult since that was back in BC), I would probably also tell them that most of them should reconsider – not because you need to be the smartest of the smart to get in (I am certainly not), but because it is a very intensive and demanding career. We spend anywhere between 5-10 years training towards a full certification, during which we have barely any free time, and can easily incur more than 100, 000 dollars of student debt. We generally work under stressful and intense environments, see patients at a low point in their life, and often struggle with feelings of burn-out or inadequacy. So yes, I would still tell a similar group of students to reconsider, not because they are not smart enough, but because of the high level of responsibility, dedication and gruesome training. I would tell them to make sure they are pursuing this career for the right reasons, whatever those may be, because a career as a doctor is a commitment that should not be lightly made.”
Richard in Alternate Dimension
If not medicine, Richard would be finishing up his year of work experience (Co-op), probably doing grunt-level research work in a lab at UBC. “Hopefully I would have had at least 1 publication with my name somewhere near the bottom of the author list by this point, but that is hardly guaranteed. I would also be cold-calling professors at this point to find a honors thesis supervisor for my final year of thesis work.”
“I hope to become an Emergency Physician, and perhaps a little extra Family Medicine work on the side. Two things that I have frequently heard (and also partially believed) before going into med school was that
1) You have to wait forever to be seen when you go to the ER, and
2) Emergency Physicians are the least knowledgeable of all medical professions: jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
Having spent a significant amount of time shadowing (and directly working) in the Emergency Department, I now know that there is more to the ER than just popular opinion.
1) A triage nurse would have seen all patients who enter the emergency department, by using his/her clinical experience and established guidelines to decide how sick each patient is. Patients who are more critically ill are placed on a higher priority to see the emergency physician, so patients who are less ill unfortunately will have to wait.
2) Emergency Physicians are experts at managing the first few hours of any undifferentiated patient walking/rolling through the hospital doors… a mantle that few other specialties can claim.
I hope to be able to pursue a career in this field and help raise public awareness and understanding of what Emergency Medicine is all about, as well as be able to treat, educate and comfort patients on what may very well be one of the worst days of their life.”
Do you have anyone to attribute your success to, such as a mentor, idol, or friend/family member?
“My parents are probably the most instrumental to my minute successes so far. As a child, my parents strived to provide me with the best possible opportunities to learn and succeed, even at the expense of their own careers.
When I was 5 years old, they decided that our family should immigrate to the UK, despite having very secure careers in China, so that I can immerse myself in an English environment to better learn the language. Subsequently we immigrated to Singapore, so that I can be taught in a very renowned school in a bilingual (both Mandarin Chinese and English) environment. These moves early on in my life allowed me to obtain a far better education that I would have had staying in China, especially for becoming fluently bilingual in both Chinese and English. Subsequently, they decided that we should move to Canada, due to its reputed multicultural and democratic society, hoping that I would have even more opportunities for success in this country.
With each move to a new country, my parents put their careers and their own futures at risk. After having immigrated through so many countries, neither of my parents was able to work in their original careers. My father, in particular, who was a post-doctorate fellow on a tenure track, sacrificed his chances of professorship in both China and Singapore upon emigrating from those countries, and is now working in an almost entirely unrelated profession, being unable to find a position in his career here in Canada.
Without a doubt, my parents are the ultimate contributors to my success. They have never failed to place my future at the utmost priority, often at the expense of their own careers and futures. As a young child, I never fully comprehended their intentions, and frequently resented them for having made me transfer schools or move to foreign places, where I need to find new friends and build a new life. But without their sacrifices, I would never have had the opportunity to come to Canada, much less embark on a career as a medical doctor in this great country. Words alone will never be sufficient in expressing my gratitude. I can only work hard to become a good, caring physician, a son that they can be proud of.”