Spoof 2016: Because med school can’t always be serious

One of our lovely Penn Med Spoof Directors describes the annual tradition of an entirely student-run musical performance parodying medical school and our wonderful professors and classmates.

Every spring, Penn Med students from all classes get together to put on a show that is one of the school’s most beloved traditions – Spoof! Part skits, part musical/dance numbers, the show both parodies and celebrates the medical school experience, and often the field of medicine in general. Spoof has many traditions; one of my favorites is the way we choose the name of the show each year. A school-wide name contest is held, with students submitting medicine- and pop-culture-themed puns, and the winner receiving both eternal glory and free admission to the show. Previous titles include classics such as “Game of Crohns” and “Narcs and Respiration;” this year’s runaway favorite was “Straight Outta Thrombin.”

For all the cast and crew, Spoof is a great way to spend time with classmates and students from other years, as well as to show off talents in acting, singing, dancing, writing, and choreographing that are often in disuse during most of medical school. For many, including myself, the best part of Spoof is the chance to bond with Penn Med students of all years in such a fun and unique setting – a far cry from the classroom or the hospital!

The show offers a lot to members of every class, whether in the cast or in the audience. MS1s traditionally write and star in a skit lampooning both the professors and general shenanigans of the pre-clinical experience. This year’s show saw the MS1s perform spot-on impersonations of beloved Mod 1 instructors Dr. Lewis, Dr. Allman, and Dr. Toshi, to name a few, in a hilarious Star-Wars-themed skit. In addition, the show allows MS1s in both the cast and the audience to get an inside glimpse of what med school has in store for them in the years to come!

MS2s, having just entered the wilds of the hospital for their clerkship year, usually contribute a video, as this allows them to prepare ahead of time and spare themselves the weeks of rehearsal and late-night pizza-eating required of Spoof cast members. This year most certainly set a record for the most enthusiastic and dedicated MS2 class – their video, which depicted Penn Med as an episode of Survivor, included a cast of over 50 students and faculty! And as the show was scheduled on the weekend following the end of a clerkship block, many MS2s were able to unwind after their first shelf exams by enjoying the show in person.

For MS3s, who by showtime have completed two major milestones of medical school (clerkship year and Step 1), Spoof affords the perfect opportunity for unwinding, as well as catharsis. We had a strong contingent of dedicated MS3s this year, involved in everything from writing and acting in some of the crowd-favorite skits and songs of the night (Admission (Remix) and Navicare were some of the many standouts), to filming and editing all of the show’s videos, and to playing in the band (some ultra-committed MS3s did many of these simultaneously). We can rest assured that next year these future MS4s will make Spoof even better (if such a thing is possible)!

MS4s traditionally make up a large percentage of both cast and audience, as in their post-Match and pre-residency state they tend to have the most free time and the most enthusiasm for poking fun at all things med school. Being a part of the show allows MS4s the opportunity to reminisce on their Penn Med experiences, and to make more daring jokes than they might if they weren’t already guaranteed to graduate. Who knows if so many students would have volunteered to do a Magic-Mike-themed dance routine on stage if they weren’t already matched into residency programs? (And yes, this number brought the house down.) For a certainty, it was a wonderful way to start to close out our med school careers, and a more fitting venue could not be imagined – this year’s Spoof was in the beautiful Zellerbach Theater, the same place where we MS4s had our white coat ceremony just a few years before.

There’s not much more I can say about the magic and joy that is Penn Med Spoof, so I think I will let a few pictures do the rest of the talking. Med school has been a crazy and amazing ride, and being involved in Spoof 2016 was one of the best parts by far. I’m sure Spoof 2017 will be fantastic!

Spoof1Med students taking a standardized patient exam in the show’s opener, “Book of Perelman.”

Spoof2The cast showing off major singing skills in an anesthesia/surgery version of Adele’s “Hello”

Spoof3Getting information out of a patient in “Good Doc/Bad Doc”

Spoof4The Match, if hosted by “Maury,” would certainly include a case of contested paternity.

Spoof5Med school gunners, too hot to handle, in “HUPtown Funk”

All photos courtesy of Chris Sant.

Emily Cross (MS4) grew up in NYC and is headed to Boston for pediatrics residency. She was an enthusiastic Spoof audience member for the first three years of med school, but this year decided to dive in head first as co-director alongside classmates Jim Murrett and Stephan Wu. 



Dear Entering Class of 2016…

Welcome to the Perelman School of Medicine family! We are so excited that you are joining us. My name is Ducky, and I am the President of the Medical Student Government and the head of the Wellness Leadership. I am originally from the northern suburbs of Chicago, moved out to sunny Southern California for college, and had a brief stint in Baltimore before landing at PSOM. Fair warning—you will see a lot of me next year and I will send you many emails (apologies in advance, but I can 73% guarantee that you will learn to love them).

The transition to medical school is a unique one. To get to this point, you’ve all crushed college and made it on your own in the (pseudo) real world. I arrived at PSOM thinking I had figured things out in college and med school would be no different. On the first day of orientation, I felt a rush of excitement—I was here! Finally at the place I had been dreaming about since I was 16. I quickly found myself overwhelmed by our schedule and struggling to reconcile the material we were learning with the care I was hoping to provide my future patients. I was excited and proud, yet I found myself feeling out of touch with my mission and purpose—with the very reasons why I came to med school in the first place.

I’m here to tell you: whether you seamlessly adjust to this new environment or you have a more challenging transition, please know that everything you are feeling is valid and others around you are feeling similar emotions. I got over the hump by reaching out to the incredible people around me, and I want to encourage all of you to do the same. PSOM should never be a place where you feel alone; we are a wildly dysfunctional family and you become a member on day one.

Today I want to let you know about the variety of Wellness programming we provide to help you connect with your new classmates, smooth your transition into medical school, and make your first year live up to the experience that your teenage self fantasized about while studying for the ACT (please, I’m from the Midwest.)

The Community Conversations dinner series is offered monthly and cosponsored by the House System and student groups. The series provides an opportunity for students from across the classes to gather and discuss hardships and successes. Recent “Conversations” have highlighted challenges faced by medical students in both the preclinical and clinical years and allyship. The events feature a series of speakers followed by facilitated small group break-out discussions to talk about our own experiences in a safe and understanding setting.

Dinner with Acquaintances continues the theme of connecting students between and across classes through potluck dinners offered each month in Center City, Grad Hospital, and West Philly (basically everywhere). We purposely pair up students from all years to promote inter-class unity. Feel free to bring store-bought cookies that you put in your own Tupperware.

Perelman Pals groups students together to facilitate near-peer mentoring and socializing across the classes. In the Fall, Pals groups are composed of MS1s with MS2s and in the Spring, MS1s and MS4s are matched (Mentors! Role models! Best friends!?).

The Workout Buddies program is exactly what it sounds like. We pair PSOM students from different classes with each other based on their own fitness level and goals, and then check in monthly to help students get as swole/cut/lean/mean/yucky as they want.

Penn Med Yoga offers free yoga classes at school twice weekly. They even have mats you can use for free! ~Namaste~

Screenings and Games Nights are offered on Thursdays following the MSG Happy Hour (I challenge you to find $2 Blue Moon and $0.25 Skittles anywhere else.)

Before I leave, I’d like to offer you one final piece of advice. Get to know your classmates—both those that enter with you and those who are already here. Every day I have the enormous privilege of spending time with truly exceptional and inspiring individuals. Do not take these people for granted!

I can’t wait to meet many of you on Thursday. Once again, welcome to the family!



Ducky is an MS1 from the suburbs of Chicago, IL. Her passions include lemurs, Bud Light Lime, and listening to Continuum-era John Mayer on vinyl.

The Inaugural “Penn Talks” Competition

An inside scoop on a new event for Penn Med students!

This past year has been an exciting one. I applied for residency in internal medicine and took some unforgettable elective rotations. Actually, as I’m writing this post, Match Day is only a week away! The most exciting part of this year, though, was seeing months of planning come to fruition in the PennTalks Teaching Competition.

Back in September 2015, I went to the administration with an idea: let’s hold a competition where students compete against one another to give the best 8 minute talk they can on a topic of their choice. Each competitor would be paired with a faculty mentor, to help them refine their talk. The winner would be selected by a panel of “celebrity judges” (read: the student body’s favorite faculty), with the audience voting, as well. This TedTalks-meets-American Idol event would be advertised to the entire School of Medicine and celebrate how much we can teach each other as Penn medical students. Ultimately, the administration liked our pitch and gave us the go-ahead. Although a lot of work lay ahead of me and the rest of Penn’s Medical Education Club, I couldn’t have been more excited.

Want to know how excited we all were? See for yourself:
LEAKED Penn Talks Training Video

After many months of planning and preparation, on February 25th, 2016, the first annual PennTalks Teaching Competition opened to an auditorium full of Penn medical students and medical school faculty. Our eight competitors, chosen from a pool of initial entrants, spanned all 4 medical school classes. Their talks covered a wide array of interesting topics. Examples included “Keeping Creativity Alive in Medicine,” “How to Insert an Ultrasound-guided IV,” “What are My Chances, Doc? – Why Biostatistics Are Important to Everyone,” and “What a Whale can Teach Us about the Human Body.” This year’s winner, Natalie Stokes, a 4th year applying in Internal Medicine, gave a stellar talk entitled “The Science of Swole: What are in those GNC Supplements Anyways?” All of the talks were fantastic, and everyone learned something new during the event.

JFL_0099Casey McQuade, MS4 and co-president of the Medical Education Club, explains the rules for the night to the panel of celebrity judges.

The success of this event demonstrates two key points about Penn. First, we have an administration who listens to our ideas and is willing to partner with us to make our ideas a reality. Without the support of our administration, and the faculty members who were either judges or mentors, the Teaching Competition would have remained another unfulfilled “good idea”. Second, our students are rooting for each other, and we naturally want to see our peers succeed. That willingness to share what we know with one another makes Penn students truly outstanding, and makes the School of Medicine a wonderful place to become a doctor.

JFL_0412Natalie Stokes, MS4, launches into her award-winning presentation.

Casey McQuade is a fourth year student who matched in Internal Medicine. He is interested in cardiology and general internal medicine, and served as the co-president of the Medical Education Club at Penn. 

Mentorship at Penn Med

At Penn Med, “mentorship” is more than just a buzzword. An MS3 shares her perspective on the culture and community of mentoring at Penn.

When I think back to May 13th 2013, less than 48 hours before the equally exciting and fearful May 15th deadline (aka the day which “you must pick one, and ONLY one medical school to attend,”) I am pleasantly reminded as to why I chose to attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. I think back to that afternoon where I found myself sitting at my kitchen table with my older brother, who is also a physician. I was making the painstaking decision between attending medical school close to the comforts of home, family, and friends at my alma mater or moving to the East Coast in order to attend the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. While my brother knew months prior when I was accepted to UPenn that I would be matriculating here for medical school, he sat patiently while I resorted to my handy-dandy “T-diagrams” and allowed them to fulfill their timeless role as a “pros and cons” list, one for each school. About half way through my first list, my brother appropriately nudged me along in my decision making. He simply asked, “Liz, what is holding you back from admitting that you belong at Penn? The hard part is over… they’ve already accepted you! Now all that you have to do is GO!” While even he had to smirk at his over simplification of my just having to “go” to the East Coast, my response was more insightful than expected. I replied with the honest answer that I was hesitating out of fear—I would be moving to a new city where I had no family, no friends, and would unfortunately have to face my fear of flying at least twice a year! I expressed that what I needed was to have someone like him, like family, at Penn. Someone to have my best interests in mind and, of course, tons of patience and encouragement for all of my sure-to-come struggles. He took my list and added “mentorship” to the “pro” section for UPenn. Sibling rivalry usually limits my acknowledgment of how smart my brother may be, but I have to admit, he sure knew what he was talking about this time.

While the concept of mentorship may not be unique to UPenn, I do believe that it is uniquely applied here. At every level of the “medical school hierarchy” connections are constantly being made, upheld, and expanded upon, whether that be between medical students in the same year, different years, with residents, attendings, post-docs, etc. To be honest, though the term “hierarchy” certainly serves a historical and legal purpose within the medical community when distinguishing student from resident from attending, it just doesn’t feel correct to apply to Penn. If I had to describe the relationship of academics at Penn Med, it would be best described as a ‘web’ comprised of multiple layers of closely interwoven thread, all of which rely on connections with others to maintain its tension and strength. The building of your “Penn web” begins during your first week of orientation when you are assigned to your “learning team”, a random grouping of 6-7 students with whom you share the most time during your first year and a half of med school While taking ‘team exams’, synergizing in small groups, and taking classes together, whether or not you realize it at the time, you are also mentoring one another. With the beyond impressive students at Penn, and their incredible variety of backgrounds and experiences, it really should have come as no surprise that my classmates have offered me some of my best mentor and mentee interactions, an asset that cannot be highlighted enough as clerkships are now off and running!

In addition to the supportive infrastructure Penn Med students offer one another, the impressive faculty are a key distinguishing feature at Penn. In all honesty, this exact paragraph was written after a prolonged period of writer’s blocker encouraged me to check my inbox, and I had three emails, from three different mentors, currently in three different states, still taking the time out of their busy schedules to respond to emails and offer advice or project ideas. I have never felt so supported as a student, future physician, but most importantly, as a person by this university. With time built in to our curriculum for a scholarly pursuit, we are constantly encouraged to interact with our faculty and peers. Often meetings which begin with discussions about research projects conclude with encouragement, guidance, and most importantly, a sense of genuine support as we trudge forward in our careers. I may not know exactly what field of medicine I will end up in or where I will be practicing, but I am confident that UPenn has and will continue to provide my classmates and me with the necessary tools to pursue and accomplish our goals.

Elizabeth Messenger is a 3rd year medical student at the Perelman School of a Medicine. She is currently interested in pursuing a career within dermatology. In her free time, you can find her on the volleyball or basketball courts.

Learning Teams

Learning teams are a unique and central component of the Penn Med curriculum. An MS3 shares his experience and perspective on how his learning team has shaped his medical education.

I don’t know that I really appreciated the role of Learning Teams before starting at Penn, and I think that it’s difficult to. I was told that we’d be working in groups together, and that we’d become really close, but that didn’t seem too new to me. I’d worked in groups before.

You meet your Learning Team in the first few days of orientation as you’re taken to an off-campus retreat. Each incoming medical school class is divided into 12 Doctoring Groups, and each Doctoring Group is home to two Learning Teams of 7-8 students each. During the retreat, which is modeled closely off of the Wharton orientation, you go through all sorts of team-building exercises – you write skits, build tools, and generally reflect on how well you cooperate. We were told that business schools have long known how to enrich the leadership and collaborative skills of their students, and this is why the medical school has taken much of the exercises and general philosophy of Learning Teams from Wharton. It made sense to me.

Your Learning Team then guides you through the first 1.5 years of pre-clinical learning at Penn. There are certainly exceptions – you pick your own anatomy team of 4, and some of the discussion groups in Genetics and Epidemiology are arranged based on prior knowledge – but for the most part you work through problems with your Learning Team. Courses are typically structured with lectures in the morning followed by separate discussion-based problem solving sessions (“small groups”) where your learning team will work relatively independently and get assistance from circulating professors. Based on the course, small groups might entail reading clinical cases and answering questions, going through EKGs, or interpreting digital histology slides. When you work with the same group for roughly 2 hours per day, every day, you learn a lot about how the group functions and what needs to be done to ensure future success. Our group would have different “drivers” for each session, and these leaders gave our group direction and organization. Sometimes the driver was the one most familiar with that particular material, occasionally the driver was someone who had lots of questions and would take us through the session more methodically, and not infrequently the driver was simply the last person to arrive to class. We spruced up these sessions with snacks, and made a point to celebrate everyone’s birthday during small groups. Overall, seeing everyone day in and day out, and having no choice but to work and learn together, brought us all closer. There were few secrets, except for the one time when we were trying to schedule a group meeting in the afternoon and one member kept saying he was busy at each proposed time. Frustrated, we asked him what he was doing and when he’d be free, and he finally revealed to us that he driving out of Philly to buy/adopt a hedgehog. … Ok. We didn’t appreciate the secrecy, but we discovered a lot that day about keeping a hedgehog as a pet.

That isn’t to say that groups never have issues, and certainly there were tenser moments when material was difficult or when there were time pressures for finishing our work. One unique aspect to the Learning Teams relative to other group work is that most of the tests at Penn Med have a team component. What’s the best way to write down one concise answer to an open-ended question when there are 7 people, each with their own ideas and preferred phrasings? I’m still not sure that there’s a clear recipe for success, and I’m sorry Annie that you got stuck so often being the “scribe”. The process teaches you valuable lessons for teamwork and communication, and Penn makes sure to build in de-briefing sessions to reflect on your team functioning and any inter-personal conflicts. We strove to plan potluck dinners and social outings to maintain the health of our group too.

The Learning Team is also the group in which you first learn how to interact with standardized patients (actors portraying clinical scenarios, to teach out how to approach the doctor-patient relationship). I sat in front of my 6 teammates and a professor as I first struggled to interview friendly, then sad, then racist standardized patients. It was nerve-wracking to be observed in that way, but I’d much rather have done it in front of those close friends than others whom I didn’t know as well. Maybe that’s what why the Learning Team bonds are so tight – not only do you spend time together, but you succeed together, struggle together, and learn how to be vulnerable with each other. I’ve opened up to my Learning Team members in ways that would be rare with other friends, and that’s become especially true as we’ve transitioned into the clinical part of our training.

Now, on our clerkship rotations, we have Doctoring sessions with our two Learning Teams once per month rather than once a week. We talk about the stresses of adapting to the hospital routine, the mental demands of studying for standardized shelf exams, the exhaustion after working night shifts, the emotional burden of dealing with patients dying, and any other personal concerns that come up during what is certainly a transformative year. We also deal with the high points – the rotations that have inspired us, the moments that reaffirm our desire to go into medicine, and the paths we see ourselves heading down.

In one of our first potluck dinners at the beginning of medical school, we went around the room and took guesses at peoples’ future specialties. At that point it was based purely on initial impressions and personalities. We did a similar check-in recently, and it was informative to see how people have discovered their passions and molded their visions for the future. I can’t believe how far we’ve come and how much we’ve experienced together in the last 2+ years, and I’m grateful to have had the Learning Team structure to support all of us along the way.

Nilan Schnure is an MS3 from Bethesda, MD. He studied molecular biology at Princeton University before working for a year in clinical research at the UCSF Breast Care Center. In college he ran track and sang, which he’s tried unsuccessfully to do simultaneously to make the most of his free time during clerkship year.

Welcome from an MSTP student!

In every Penn Med class, about 15 of the 160 students are part of the school’s robust  MD-PhD program. Today, a second year MD-PhD student shares her interest in pursuing a combined degree, integrating medical training with graduate research training.


My name is (Elena) Alejandra Guevara Mendez. I am from San Juan, Puerto Rico and studied Molecular Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras (UPR-RP), and am currently a first year MSTP  (Medical Science Training Program) student at Perelman School of Medicine.

When I was in high school, I could think of no other profession I wanted to pursue more than being a writer. I was set on studying Literature and Languages, maybe move to Paris for a bit, and entertain thoughts and play with words for a living. My very Puerto Rican mother pulled my head out of the clouds and, of course, wouldn’t let me (and God forbid you cross a mother such as mine). So when senior year rolled around, I decided that the only other thing I could see myself studying was science, and in PR, if you study science, that pretty much automatically dictates that you’ll apply to medical school.

Fast forward four years and since I still couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life, so I kept my options open. I spent about two and a half years working in my lab in PR before applying for the MSTP program. Research is hard, time consuming, frustrating, and competitive- it is not easy, and not for everyone. You need to spend real time in a lab on a project that you can call your own to really know if it’s something that you want to really do. For me, research is an avenue to entertain thoughts and ideas in a way that is very difficult to do in a clinical setting.

The approach to addressing medical questions and considerations in basic science research, as well as in more translational bench to bedside research, varies greatly from the approach in clinical settings. In the clinic, you are applying what is already true and tested, there is little if any room for error (and thus creativity), because improving a patient’s health is the primary goal. In research, you have the time and freedom to explore how, why, and when different ideas/solutions work. Just as with art and literature, research is a way to entertain thoughts and play around with ideas.

There are most definitely drawbacks to a combined degree. My family has no clue what it is I’m doing, and every time I speak to them on the phone they ask me when I’m going to get married and have babies. EVERY TIME. I don’t speak for every Puerto Rican out there, but personally for me, the move to Philadelphia has been quite hard. Don’t get me wrong, Philadelphia is a really cool city with great people, food, and activities to do. If it weren’t such a great place to live and study, trust me when I say I would’ve been back to PR faster than you can say “mofongo relleno”. I miss my island and my family terribly- I miss the salty breeze, the heavy smell of mango in the high afternoon, and the trembling sun hot against bare skin.

One thing that I have found priceless for my transition has been to volunteer at Puentes de Salud, a clinic principally for uninsured Latinos, although really anyone needing medical assistance can attend. At Puentes, I have found a community of like-minded individuals with whom I learn side-by-side, and from whom I learn. The administrative staff is also very helpful and attentive, especially as you adjust to being a medical student.

I don’t think anyone would say medical school is easy- there is a lot of material to be learned and little time to do so. Nevertheless, when I am studying, I am often struck by the (very welcome) thought that I am really fascinated by what I study, and grateful that I am learning from true leaders in the field. Penn is an amazing school not because of what people think of it outside its walls, but by the amazing quality of those who work within it. I am blown away by the professors and researchers at Penn Med, and even more so by my peers. The diversity of people, talents, and viewpoints at Penn that makes it so that you can find people with whom you can both feel intellectually stimulated, as well as inspired.

Alejandra Guevara is a second year MSTP student. She attended the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Cellular Molecular Biology. She is involved in LMSA and Puentes de Salud. In her free time she enjoys eating, exercising, online shopping, and complaining about not having a warm, sunny beach near, not necessarily in that order.

Summer research adventures in China

Penn Med Voices took a (much needed) hiatus this summer. Now we’re back, with many more stories to share! First up, Christopher Magoon, an MS2, writes about his summer doing ophthalmology research in China.

As a second year medical student, the hospital still feels like foreign place.  Every time I enter the building, I am met with unfamiliar words, sights and smells.  This was especially true this summer, at Zhonghsan Ophthalmic Center (ZOC) in Guangzhou, China.  As a top-tier ophthalmic hospital, ZOC handles hundreds of thousands of patients each year, many of whom travel great distances to seek care.  More so, in interactions great and small–directly and indirectly–the people within ZOC also grapple with central questions facing modern China:  “How do you provide healthcare for 1.4 billion people?…In a socialist country?…With a capitalist system?”

I came to China to work with Nathan Congdon, MD, MPH, a professor of Preventative Ophthalmology at ZOC and a leading researcher in blindness prevention in the region whose work has been by featured in NPRThe Wall Street Journal, and Chinese State Television, among others.  With funding from Penn’s Global Health Program, I spent nearly two months living in Guangzhou, working with Dr. Congdon and his team.

Two other ZOC members and Magoon discussing a report on diabetic retinopathy at a hospital training session two hours away from ZOC—Shaoguan, Guandong Provence, China. Credit: Christopher Magoon
Two other ZOC members and Magoon discussing a report on diabetic retinopathy at a hospital training session two hours away from ZOC—Shaoguan, Guandong Provence, China. Credit: Christopher Magoon

Like many in China, Dr. Congdon’s team works doggedly to keep up with a country that is changing at breakneck speeds.  China’s stunning rise in wealth, urbanization, and technological prowess has yielded rises in obesity, income disparity, and more health care demand.  This produces a public health situation that is, frankly, difficult to grapple with.  Broadly speaking, Dr. Congdon’s team conducts research to understand how and why barriers to care exist, and what various stakeholders can do about it.

Within this swirling landscape, it is easy to underestimate what is at stake.  China has seen unparalleled progress in many categories of health metrics, yet the gains still hang in the balance.  China’s population is aging rapidly, and as a result of the one-child policy, many Chinese will have to bear the costs of both parents’ healthcare needs without the support of siblings.  As China has developed, it has seen a concordant rise in diseases that are familiar to more affluent settings:  diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.  These chronic diseases are costly and time consuming to manage.  Perhaps of greatest concern, China’s income disparity has yielded a massive number of people who are feeling left behind and angry, with few formal avenues for recourse.  This anger often spills over into the hospital wards, as patient attacks, and even murder of doctors, is commonplace across the country.  In 2012, Chinese hospitals averaged 27 attacks per hospital per year.

While true, this grave picture hardly colored my experience at ZOC.  Though the hospital was often bursting with people, this was no different from my subway ride to the hospital, or even the cafe where I met my Chinese tutor after work.  Patients were nearly uniformly appreciative and attentive when undergoing treatment.  Far from focusing on high-level problems, our team worked on getting excellent data on smaller questions: “What do diabetic patients in rural China think about the doctors and equipment at their rural hospital?  What about in the bigger hospitals in the city?”

ZOC member provides training and treatment for local ophthalmologist—Shaoguan, Guangdong Provence, China. Credit: Christopher Magoon
ZOC member provides training and treatment for local ophthalmologist—Shaoguan, Guangdong Provence, China. Credit: Christopher Magoon


Most of my days were spent in our modest office on the 4th floor above a mall that sold household appliances; like many organizations in China, ZOC has outgrown their main building.  I shared the office with statisticians, residents, physicians, postdocs, fundus readers, IT experts, and others who formed our team.  There are many projects going on at once, and I pitched in where I could: editing documents, translating from Mandarin into English, and working on a review article of interventions for non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries.  When not in the office, I studied Chinese.  Though I’ve spent years learning the language, there is always more to know, especially focusing on medical vocabulary and 汉子, the written characters.  In many ways, studying Chinese is similar to being a medical student—the more you learn, the more you realize how far you have to go, while still creating amazing opportunities.

Coming back to Philly to begin my second year of medical school, I feel lucky to have been able to experience this different system, with its unique set of challenges and solutions.  Yet I am reminded of the fact that our own system suffers from parallel ailments:  inequality, chronic diseases, and increasing costs.  On both sides of the Pacific, there are no easy answers—but ample reason to ask precise questions.

Christopher Magoon is a second year medical student who lived in rural China from 2011-2012 working for a rural education non-profit, after graduating from Yale University with a history degree. In his spare time Chris enjoys learning medical Mandarin, building tables, playing squash with his learning team buddies, and being an all-around cool dude.