Interview with Diana Huang

Diana Huang, in the lounge at LKSOM

What year are you at Temple?

Just graduated!!

Where are you headed after graduation?

Swedish Medical Center — First Hill in Seattle, WA, for residency in Family Medicine.

Tell us about your thesis.

My thesis is about education as a path to health equity, and came out of my work as a CBUHP student intern between my 2nd and 3rd years of medical school. I worked on a number of different projects during that time, including helping with the Community Engagement course for the Masters program, but the most impactful was getting to know ninth grade students at Building 21 — Ferguson. The school was designed with the intention to help urban, underserved students succeed, and Temple was approached to create a health careers elective after a student asked for more exposure to the field. Developing and then implementing the curriculum with the help of CBUHP faculty and Temple students was a tremendous learning experience for me, and quite an undertaking as it was two hours a day, four days a week in the classroom for 11 weeks!

The process challenged me in many ways, and the need for a thesis pushed me to work through the many thoughts my students inspired in me. My students frequently amazed me with their level of self-sufficiency, much more than I had at their age. However, the things that would make them strong candidates for college and medical school, like high test scores and the ability to memorize large amounts of esoteric information, were lacking. It made me think about what kind of doctors our medical education system is designed to produce, and how that kind of doctor is different than the kind of doctor most patients actually need. I think we’re at a place now where (almost) everyone acknowledges that health disparities exist and social determinants of health matter, but there is still a tremendous amount of resistance to changing the system to reflect this reality since most of those in leadership have not come from a background like that of the underserved patients we learn from in medical school. As I reflected on my own experiences as a student and a teacher, I looked at literature in education, health policy, and medical education. I think it’s clear that health happens outside of the hospital/clinic walls, so if we really want to make people healthier, we need to empower patients and communities. Education is one key strategy to accomplish that, and I mean education not just as K-12 or college education, but also understanding that doctor’s visits are an educational opportunity, than just a time to gather data and then make a prescriptive recommendation.

Why did you go to medical school?

I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved learning and liked the idea of having the special knowledge that would be able to help people in their time of need. My undergraduate studies were all hard sciences, so I decided to take a year to go to massage school and make sure I actually liked working with people. I quickly confirmed that, though I also heard many stories that year of classmates/friends who had negative experiences with the medical system. These stories only made me more determined to make it through medical school so I could provide better experiences for my future patients.

Why did you apply to the bioethics program?

From my experiences in massage school, I’d started reading about health policy and learned how complicated the system was for patients. Additionally, moving to Philadelphia and spending time in North Philadelphia made me want to know more about why such disparities existed in the city and what I could do to help. I had also applied for the dual MD/MPH program at Temple, but after learning about the MAUB program I thought it would be a better fit since I would have many other medical students learning with me.

What is your hometown? What is unique about your hometown?

I’m from Pittsburgh, PA. We’re known for being a sports town, with the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates, but I love the city more for the kind people and the spirit of innovation. I went to college at the University of Pittsburgh, and my siblings went to the neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. I did several of my 3rd and 4th year rotations in Pittsburgh at Allegheny General Hospital and had a great experience.

What is your favorite Philly restaurant?

I love Bubblefish for sushi, Sampan for Happy Hour, and Cafe Lift for brunch.

Where do you like to study?

Mostly at home since I’m easily distracted!

What was your favorite rotation?

I really enjoyed my family medicine and internal medicine rotations in both 3rd and 4th year. Those were the rotations where I learned the most and developed the strongest connections with patients.

What do you like to do when you are not studying?

Sleep, read, listen to podcasts, and go on long walks when it’s nice out.

What have you learned about yourself while studying bioethics?

Most of what I’ve learned in bioethics is from listening to the perspectives of people who challenge or disagree with me. It has required getting used to the discomfort of thinking that I might be wrong, but I think it has become a strength and will continue to be one as I grow as a doctor.

What is your favorite/most meaningful class and why?

It’s hard to choose, but I think the thesis was most meaningful for me as it forced me to actually come to conclusions and put things down on paper. Despite being willing to challenge my own beliefs internally, it’s still hard for me to put my thoughts out there publicly. It was incredibly rewarding to see how much I’ve changed in the last couple years of medical school, even though I’m still far from thinking I have all the answers!

Where do you like to travel?

I love traveling to new places, especially with my siblings, and have been lucky to travel with them to London, Japan, and Costa Rica. This year, I went to Guatemala for an international elective to learn Spanish, and to China with my mother to visit our relatives.

What is your dream job?

Half-time family medicine clinic and half-time academic/policy/public health work. I hope to work with medical students and other learners whatever I do, as great physician mentors have kept me going through this whole journey.

What non-medical literature do you like to read?

I read Medical Apartheid recently which really got me fired up. It’s really a history book despite the use of “medical” in the title, and I think it should be required reading for medical students (and really all hospital faculty). Currently, I’m reading Hillbilly Elegy as part of a book club with my siblings.

Are you currently binge-watching anything?/What was the last show you binge-watched?

I’m watching Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, an adaptation of the Margaret Atwood classic, which is fantastic and thought-provoking and feels horrifyingly relevant. Would watch it with a friend if you’re prone to nightmares like I am, but definitely worth checking out. Also on Hulu, East Los High is an addictive, dramatic teen soap designed by a partnership of academics and studio execs to teach safe sex practices. It’s a guilty pleasure but also a potential public health strategy!

What is an aspect of healthcare you are most concerned about?

I’m definitely concerned about the AHCA, but am glad to see all the energy from grassroots groups fighting against it. If there is one good thing that has come out of the election, it’s that people are more aware that the government does actually matter and so we should all be involved in holding power accountable. Within medical institutions, I’m concerned by physicians who forget that it’s a privilege to be able to take care of patients, and medical students and residents who are already burnt out. I think it comes down to a need for good mentors and role models of professionalism and ethics in the hospital, and leaders who manage physician workloads so they’re able to spend more time with patients and less time doing paperwork.

What is the hardest thing about being a medical student?

I think medical school is hardest when you feel isolated. Once I realized that others were going through the same difficulties, or had gone through the same difficulties before, the weight felt much lighter and I was able to focus on studying rather than feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

What makes you laugh?

My family is hilarious, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.