2018 Role Model Spotlight Series
Mary Zhu: Physician in the Making
“If there's something that you're really passionate about then don't let what people think affect that or change that.”
– Mary Zhu
This week the 24strong role model spotlight is on Mary Zhu. Mary is a twenty-year-old student in the Queen’s University Accelerated Route to Medical School. Hardworking, thoughtful, and articulate, Mary appreciates the element of trust between physicians and patients. Topics surrounding brain research and education have peaked her interest so far in her university studies and her participation in various extra-curricular activities and projects reflects this. Through her volunteer and research work, she hopes to help others as well as further her professional development as a soon-to-be doctor. The following is the best of my conversation with Mary Zhu. Enjoy!
RB: 1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
MZ: So, I went to Queens for the Queen’s University Accelerated Route to Medical School (QuARMS) program so I'm part of the medical school's class of 2022. I grew up in Toronto for most of my life. Most of my life I didn't think I wanted to go into medicine actually. I made a very late decision. I, you know, love politics and I loved law and criminal law so I thought I wanted to go into that. I had a really, really great mentor, someone who I really looked up to, who really inspired me to make a change decision quite late. I mean, I would say it's quite early in the grand scheme of things but I would say amongst many people who are applying for medicine or want to go into medicine I would say it's quite late, comparatively. I've majored in psychology at Queen's. I love neuroscience, I love learning about the brain, human behavior, and why we do the things that we do.
RB: 2. What does a typical day as QuARMS student look like for you?
MZ: It varies from day to day. I would say there were probably around four or five hours of classes on the average day. I also really got involved on campus during my first year. I was involved in the student government. I was involved there as a Deputy Commissioner for Academic Affairs. I did a lot of policy work and I did a lot of advocacy and a lot of policy writing. I would have office hours. I spent about ten hours a week on that. I worked on campus to make some money on the side so I spent the evenings usually working. I'd get home and find pockets throughout the day, you know, a half hour there a one hour there. I'd try to go to the library or go to a quiet place and go through my notes and go through any readings that I had to get done for the next day for my classes. In the evenings, around 11:30, you know, sometimes working on projects that I wanted to do. So I really got involved in research later on in high school and especially last summer. Then going to bed at a reasonable hour and get up in the morning. I would go out for lunch with friends so I had that social time and time to relax and kind of recharge.
RB: 3. Since you have such busy days, how do you take care of your mental health?
MZ: I think it really makes a huge difference having a really great support network and having people that you know you can count on. You don't have to talk to them or see them every day necessarily, but having people that you know that if you're going through anything or having a difficult time you can always talk to them. They will always be there, willing to support you, regardless of what it is. And not being judgmental, giving advice. It's also important to know where your own boundaries are and how much you can handle. I think the importance of learning how to say know and learning when to know when you have too much on your plate which is such a huge skill that took a while for me to learn and that I'm still learning.
RB: 4. Why do you want to be a physician?
MZ: For me, what really draws me to medicine is it's so inclusive. It doesn't necessarily matter what background someone from. If someone walks into an emergency room and they need medical attention it doesn't matter what their socioeconomic status is. It doesn't matter what they're religion or anything like that is. As physicians, we're always treating patients equally to the best of our ability and giving them the best medical attention that we can. In our society, there's a lot of places where there's a disparity in how we treat people and the service that people can receive. I'm thinking law. There are disadvantages for people that shouldn't exist because it should be a very fair system. It should be a very equitable system. I think in medicine there's still inequities but I'd still say that within medicine that's less so than within other fields. I like that part. It doesn't matter how rich or poor you are. It doesn't matter who your family is. Everyone will need to see a doctor at some day. I think that's very humbling and very equaling for us as people to remember that. I love the impact that physicians are able to have on their patients. I think the trust in the relationship between a physician and their patient is something that is so rare. I can’t think of any other career where you have such a strong relationship. You know, it's a relationship where a patient is being vulnerable towards a physician. Physicians are seeing people at some of the worst times of their lives. Being able to make them better and bring them back up is so inspiring.
RB: 5. Can you tell me about your involvement with Parachute Canada?
MZ: Parachute Canada does something called "Brain Waves”. It's an outreach campaign where we go into elementary school classes and we teach kids about the basics about neuroscience and what the brain is like and what the spine is like. You know, the five different senses. The key message that we want to drive home to these students is concussion is preventable. We want to make sure we're driving home to make sure you're playing safe, make sure you're having fun. You're playing but want to play safe. For example, wearing a bicycle helmet is a huge part of that. We teach kids to fit them. I was the coordinator for the Queen's chapter. We were coordinating about 150 volunteers... to teach kids for an hour, sometimes two-hour long presentation.
RB: 6. What does being a positive role model mean to you?
MZ: It's definitely seeing someone that's in a position that you want to be in in the future. It doesn't have to be exactly so. In high school, there was someone that I interacted with. I worked at the hospital. She was someone that I really admired. She was incredibly strong and at the time she was the only female in her entire department. Yet she was in charge of a lot of things. She had her own lab running, she was in charge of the blood analysis lab. She was just a really, really strong person who was still so friendly and down to earth. She wasn't condescending at all. You don't always have to do the exact same thing as what your role model or mentor is doing. I think a really good mentor would be able to recognize that and see that if you're really not interested [in what he or she is doing], they'll be able to direct you on the right path. It is someone who is very, very giving. Very open to speaking to you and very open to giving advice and time to talk to figure out who you are. I don't necessarily know if I would have chosen to go into medicine if I didn't get to see that representation. My interactions before tended to be with male doctors. I think there's still a little bit of bias in people to think that physicians are generally male. I think that the fact that [my role model] was female made it all that more important for me.
RB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
MZ: You're always going to get people who are going to say you shouldn't do it or you're not cut out for it. There will always be some people who are going to try to bring you down. It's not a reflection of who you are as a person or what you can or can't do. That's something that everyone faces regardless of who you are and to not take that personally. It means it's constructive feedback. Take that but take it with a grain of salt. If there's something that you're really passionate about then don't let what people think affect that or change that.
It is evident to me that Mary is an all-star leader and a competent student and researcher. I was amazed by her candor and her genuine passion for her field. As Mary summed up so nicely, role models are people who take interest in the wellbeing of others. Good ones don’t push their experiences onto the younger generation and instead use their understanding of their profession to be expert guides. Mary and I had a lovely conversation. I hung up the phone feeling proud of our generation and eager to collaborate with student leaders like her from coast to coast to coast in Canada.