The Road Less Travelled… or Never Travelled

Written by Catarina Gutierrez

9 years ago, Vivian Peng, was a pre-med student at UC Berkeley on the track to becoming a doctor. More than anything, she wanted to make a meaningful difference with her work and becoming a doctor seemed like the way to go.

Despite this seemingly straightforward path of action, Vivian always had conflicting interests. While she enjoyed her science classes and learning about the human body, she never felt the same fulfillment she did when she expressed herself creatively through dance or art. Regardless, she soldiered forward down the path of medicine, keeping art consistently on the sidelines.

Once in a while though, she would indulge herself and wonder,

What it would look like to have the dream career, one that happily married the sciences and the creative arts together?

It seemed like a farfetched dream — After all, how could doctors possibly have time to be an artist at the same time? There was just no such thing.

After failing the MCATs the first time and spending hours studying to take it a second time, Vivian remembers the moment she sat down on test day #2 when a moment of clarity hit her: She didn’t really want to do this. It became glaringly obvious — compared to her fellow classmates, her conviction to become a doctor just wasn’t as strong. While her pre-med classmates approached the MCATs with the mantra, “I’ll do it until I pass,” each moment for her had felt like running a marathon through molasses. Something that should have felt so right shouldn’t have been so hard.

So began her search for fulfillment. Right out of school, Vivian spent 2 months in Tanzania educating high school and junior high kids on HIV/AIDs. When she came back to the states, she dove deep into the marketing and design field and began doing work in graphic design, social media, and even gaming. Somehow, nothing seemed to fit quite right. Her work in Tanzania seemed to impact her more than the students she worked with and her work in marketing and design lacked the social impact she desperately sought out.

VIvian and her team in Tanzania

Vivian decided to head back to school and pursue a degree in Public Health at Columbia University. While at school, she started using her graphic design skills to freelance and support herself. Her work led her to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization, where she started as a web intern for her dream company. Serendipitously, she had landed at a place where her interests in medicine and her passion for art could co-exist.

Three years later, Vivian now works as a Communications Officer at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

“The only reason I wanted to be a doctor was to work for MSF. Now, I still get to work with MSF and I get to do a lot of creative work. I found a way to integrate the science geek and the creative side in me. It doesn’t feel like just a hobby anymore.”

You can almost hear her beaming from the other side of the phone as she describes the fulfilling work she does day in and day out.

Vivian in front of the A Fair Shot campaign poster she designed at a bus stop in NYC

Today, she works on big campaigns to change the world. At MSF, the A Fair Shot campaign is her latest assignment — a fight to reduce the price of the pneumonia vaccine. Vivian explains that pneumonia is the #1 killer of children. Nearly 1 million children worldwide die from it each year. That’s one child every 35 seconds. And she’s doing something about it.

To #TreadBoldly along with Vivian and MSF, click here to sign the petition to give every country a fair shot at protecting the lives of children.

Vivian in action during MSF’s A Fair Shot Campaign

Wanna hear some more badass stories, except live? Come to our TreadBoldly storytelling event in New York City on January 9, 2016. For tickets and more information, visit

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