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Episode 136 – Ha

Dec 04, 2019

"I thought wow, what is it about medicine that can take something that can be so raw and so hurtful and transform it into something that makes people somewhat excited and hopeful and that kind of launched me into medicine." Ha grew up with her grandparents close. It was their respect for doctors and appreciation for health care that sparked Ha’s interest in becoming a doctor. Years later, after achieving her undergraduate degree from Harvard, Ha will be attending medical school at the same place her grandparents received treatment. Today we discuss what it’s like to leave your family and home state to study in Boston, how important it is to find community, choosing the right activities that align with your goals and passion, and finally, applying to medical school with hopes to land your first choice.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Chan: What is it like to move away from your family in Utah to attend Harvard University? How do you choose which college activities to be involved in with your limited time? How does one create a community or second family while far away from home? What's it like to be part of The Arts Board for the "Harvard Crimson"?

Today, on "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life," I interview Ha, a first-year medical student here at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Announcer: Helping you prepare for one of the most rewarding careers in the world. This is "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life," with your host, the Dean of Admissions at the University Utah School of Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Chan.

Dr. Chan: Well, welcome to another edition of "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life." Great guest today, Ha.

Ha: Ha.

Dr. Chan: Ha. All right. Start med school next week.

Ha: Yes.

Dr. Chan: How does it feel today with less than two days to go?

Ha: I'm very excited, but I'm also very nervous. So I think they cancel each other out and I just feel maybe Zen about it.

Dr. Chan: Zen. That's a good way to do it. What plans did you have this weekend? How are you going to . . .

Ha: So I hope to watch some movies, read a lot of books. I have a huge pile of books. And a couple of my friends from high school want to do archery. So I'll just be going to the archery place down at Sugar House for that.

Dr. Chan: Oh, fun. I've seen that place. Do you do archery?

Ha: When my friends want to, I come along with them. But it's been a while.

Dr. Chan: Do you help spot them? Do they need spotters? Does that exist in archery?

Ha: I don't think you need spotters, but definitely, it's just fun to have someone there with you to watch and congratulate you when you hit the target and things like that

Dr. Chan: Yeah. Especially if it makes that sound, like thwap.

Ha: Yeah. A lot of fun.

Dr. Chan: Cool. All right. So let's start in the beginning. At what point did you think about becoming a doctor? Was it when you were your young or was it more in college? When did that decision start solidifying?

Ha: So I started becoming really interested in medicine maybe when I was about around 10 or so.

Dr. Chan: Ten? Okay.

Ha: And that came from my experience with my grandparents. When I was growing up, my grandparents lived with us and they often had a lot of different health concerns and various issues. So the hospital just became a really big part of our lives. And even though I was too young to be brought along with them, I would hear a lot about their visits afterwards.

And for me, I think the thing that interested me in medicine was that it was a very scary time. I remember there was this particular moment like seventh, eighth grade, around that time, when my grandpa got diagnosed with melanoma. And then on the day that he got surgery for it, my grandma fell, fractured her spine. And then a couple of months later, we also found out that she had cancer too. And so, during those months, medicine was just really prevalent.

And I think that there was a lot going on, like factors outside, that could have caused a lot of troubles for my grandparents. They didn't really understand English. There are always concerns about the cost of treatments and everything, but my grandparents always loved seeing the doctors and they always respected them.

And seeing that, it just made me really think, "Wow, what is it about medicine that can take something that can be so raw and so hurtful, but transform it into something that makes people somewhat excited and can find hope?" And so that launched me into looking into medicine more.

Dr. Chan: Did you help translate or were you just . . .

Ha: When I got a bit older . . .

Dr. Chan: Technically, you're not supposed to use 10-year-olds to translate, but I know it still happens. Yeah.

Ha: Yeah. Basically, my mom would translate a lot more. But when I got older, sometimes if my mom couldn't go to the appointments, I would go in their stead and help translate.

Dr. Chan: This is in Salt Lake City?

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: And how are your grandparents doing?

Ha: So, during college, my grandpa passed away and my grandma moved back to Vietnam. But she's doing pretty well in Vietnam.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right. We're going to talk about that. All right. You're 10 years old, and then you grow up in Salt Lake, and then you attended West. Correct?

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: So let's talk about West. IB program, I assume. I assume it was a really positive experience?

Ha: Yeah. I really liked West. I enjoyed being a part of the IB program because it gave me a lot of exposure into things that I don't think I got to do a lot. It's somewhat annoying when you're there in the moment, which is writing the extended essay, which is where you choose a topic of interest and research it. But it was actually pretty cool getting to get into it and to do that. And I met a lot of great friends there that I still keep in touch with and I'm still pretty close with. So West was definitely a very fun high school experience.

Dr. Chan: And then West helped prepare you for the next experience.

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: So let's talk about . . . how did that play out? Did you have a really good college advisor? How many schools did you apply to? What did that look like?

Ha: Yeah. So, for me, I just ended up applying to two schools.

Dr. Chan: Two schools?

Ha: I applied to The U and then I applied to Harvard Early Action. And so Early Action rules you can only apply to your state school.

Dr. Chan: So you're locked in.

Ha: Yeah. So those were the two schools that I applied to. There was definitely some advising, but I think that I just stumbled into a lot of things. I would reach out to counselors when I had specific questions and they would give us a lot of resources, but I sometimes go about things a bit confused, which is fine.

Dr. Chan: Why Harvard? Why early decision, early assurance?

Ha: Early Action I think it's called.

Dr. Chan: Early Action.

Ha: Yeah. When you take the SAT and everything, a lot of people . . . the schools start sending you information packets and everything like that. Harvard made a pretty good impression on me because I remember there was one moment, they sent us stuff about, "Oh, if you have questions about financial aid, feel free to fill out this form." And I did. And a few months later, the financial aid office actually called me and said, "Hey, we saw that you had some questions. We're happy to explain the Financial Aid Initiative, what we're trying to do here."

Similarly, the admissions office has this Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, and over the summer before senior year, I got an email from a student there and she was really willing to answer a lot of my questions. And what struck out to her answers was that she really loved the community there. And Harvard has a really nice built-in community system with their house system.

Dr. Chan: Interesting.

Ha: So it was something that really excited me because I care a lot about communities and I care a lot about creating second homes and things like that. So I think with all of that . . . like, the academics is definitely very important, but I think the community and all those other things pushed it over the edge for me. And also, they just felt a lot more approachable compared to some other communications I had.

Dr. Chan: Have you ever visited Boston before?

Ha: No. It was risky.

Dr. Chan: Okay. And did they interview you for Early Action, or how does that look like?

Ha: So anyone who applies for college gets interviewed and they do alumni interviewing.

Dr. Chan: So here in Utah?

Ha: Yeah. So I went to an alumni's home and we talked for an hour.

Dr. Chan: Okay. And so, you got in and I assume you got into The U, too, for undergrad.

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: And any conflict there or, definitely, you were committed to Harvard?

Ha: I guess, for a moment, we were trying to see if it worked financial wise, but after we realized that it did, I was pretty committed to going there.

Dr. Chan: So let's talk about Harvard. How was that? How was it going from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Boston to Cambridge where you've never been before? How was that jump? How was that experience?

Ha: It was an adjustment. I will have to say that. I definitely had . . . because I really was always in Salt Lake beyond sometimes traveling a bit out. So it was weird being really away from my family, which I was also very close with. And it was a very different environment than a lot of what I was used to. And it was really cool. I remember the first few weeks I was wide-eyed, very excited. But eventually, the excitement at the beginning dies down and you have to get serious, and it is a bit hard not having your family there.

Dr. Chan: I went to Stanford, similar to Harvard, but I would argue better weather.

Ha: I would not argue against that.

Dr. Chan: And I remember coming out of high school . . . I went to Skyline, and I took a lot of AP tests. We didn't really have the IB program back then. And I thought I was hot stuff, but then I get to Stanford and my dorm, it's like, "Oh, here's someone that took three times as many AP tests. Oh, they not only play violin, they can make a violin. They can construct one." And it was just overwhelming and intimidating because all of a sudden, all these people are really accomplished, really smart, really driven, really ambitious. And they're all just right there. So, yeah, it sounds somewhat similar.

Ha: Yeah. It definitely can get a little bit under your skin if you don't learn to realize that everyone has their own path and everyone has their own goals.

Dr. Chan: So talk about your path. How'd you find your path at Harvard? Because you did a bunch of activities. I mean, how'd you end up picking those and how'd you find your passion, I guess?

Ha: I think it just came to what . . . I think part of it was a lot of my values do come into community. So a lot of my activities were involved with being a part of a community and really getting to experience people's different perspectives.

For instance, one of my more memorable activities was being part of the Harvard Vietnamese Association. And that was really important to me because a lot of times . . . and a lot of people there also said the same thing. A lot of times at Harvard, when you do activities, it's for your resume or it's for an end goal. But at the Harvard Vietnamese Association, it was just really to be there for each other and to give support. And so, that's what I really enjoyed about it.

And so I definitely loved being part . . . I definitely tried a lot of different activities and dropped a lot of different activities. But the ones that stuck were the ones where I enjoyed the people that I was around.

And then secondly, I think when I came there, I knew that I was premed and I knew that eventually I'd end up in medicine, but I felt that I would never have four years to really explore things outside of medicine. So that was also where I took a lot of my passions, was to focus more on the arts, which was a field that I had a lot of interest in, but not something that I would want to make a career out of.

Dr. Chan: There's a lot to unpack there. So, going back to the Harvard Vietnamese Association, what kind of activities did you do and how many people attended? It sounds like a really cool group.

Ha: Yeah. It's a very small group because the Vietnamese community within Harvard is actually pretty small. So sometimes it would just be like only 10 or so people would attend activities, but we would do retreats where we would just go off for a weekend or a weekend night to just spend time with each other, cooking food with each other, playing games.

We also liked to do a lot of educational activities or to do activities that show the different types of Vietnamese food. One of the popular ones was in Halloween, we would do a fear factor where we would do different Vietnamese foods that look a bit gross, but are somewhat delicious.

Dr. Chan: Okay. I'm nodding my head. Yeah.

Ha: And so we would do that. And it would always be really funny just seeing different people reacting to different things.

And then during my junior year, one of the co-presidents of the Vietnamese Association decided to start this program called HVIET. So, at Harvard, there were a lot of different programs where students could go to countries in Asia and teach seminars for a week or so, and really help those students in those countries learn about different things. But they didn't really target Vietnam.

And so the co-president really wanted to have that because she felt that a lot of the education system in Vietnam can sometimes be pretty rigid as it is in a lot of Asia. And she wanted to introduce a lot of the liberal arts spirit to a lot of the students. So she started that and I joined along and helped with it. I never could go to the summer camp because of a lot of other different priorities, but I helped interview the students in Vietnam. I helped choose seminar leaders for it. And that was also a great experience.

Dr. Chan: The Vietnamese-American population, is it larger in Utah, or is it bigger in Harvard, or is it tough to say?

Ha: It's tough to say. It's also just because I think it is a lot larger than you would think in Utah. But then I always think about Texas or Southern California, particularly Orange County where it's really big. But I would definitely say that I feel that it might have felt maybe a lot bigger here compared to at Harvard.

Dr. Chan: In a way, it sounds, and correct me if I'm putting words in your mouth, like going off to Harvard, doing that jump from Salt Lake City to Boston, New England, this started to become your family away from . . . since you couldn't be as home as much if you had attended The U for undergrad.

Ha: Yeah. And that was definitely one of my families. I made a lot of different families there.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. Let's talk about the other families. Because I know you're being very modest, but I know you've done a lot. So I am just trying to . . . yeah, what else did you do?

Ha: So the other big thing I did was being a part of the "Harvard Crimson." So the "Harvard Crimson" is the independent college newspaper at the school and I was a part of the Arts Board. So that meant that we covered art-related events happening on campus in the greater Boston area. And we wrote a lot of book reviews, music reviews, film reviews.

Dr. Chan: So you got to get paid to go to art shows, and movies, and plays. Am I characterizing this right?

Ha: It wasn't a program that did get me paid, but for majority of the students it was more like we got in for free to all the things, and we got advanced copies of books that we might want to read that people haven't gotten yet.

Dr. Chan: Did you get to interview artists and authors?

Ha: Yeah, I did. For instance, when they had a special Boston Calling feature article, I got to interview a lot of the people playing at Boston Calling. So it was pretty cool.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. And I assume you've got lot of cool stories and met interesting people along the way.

Ha: Definitely. Yeah. Maybe not in the way that people think because I know that Hollywood and the media likes to portray things with the arts very crazy. But definitely, it was very interesting because even though I really liked the arts throughout high school, I was very much more focused on the sciences, and the arts, sometimes I would go support a friend when they were dancing.

And so it was really cool getting to meet all these artists and to talk about their passions, what drove them, what they were interested in, how they saw their art within the greater society. And so I really enjoyed it.

Dr. Chan: How did you get into the "Crimson"? I mean, did you do high school journalism?

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right. Because I just have this image of, again, this media, like "All the President's Men" or "Spotlight," which is a newer movie. Got deadlines, you have editors, and trying to make sure people aren't trying to censor you, and trying to have . . .

Ha: So, in high school, I wrote for the "Red and Black," which was the high school newspaper. Though actually, when I started college, I didn't want to do journalism. I thought four years of high school journalism was enough. But one of my entryway mates in my dorm got into the "Crimson" and he really loved it. And he kept telling me about the wonderful community and everything.

And then I guess there was a part of me that actually did miss getting to just sit and interview people and talk with them about their lives and their passions. And so I joined.

Dr. Chan: Before I turned on the pod, we had this conversation. Usually, the tables are turned. How am I doing so far? Would you rate me pretty okay as an interviewer?

Ha: No, I think you're doing wonderful.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right. I try to be approachable. All right. So, the Harvard Vietnamese Association, the "Crimson." Anything else outside of class? Because again, there's just this image of studying, and doing all the premed recs, and then all these activities on top of it.

Ha: I also danced. So I primarily danced for Harvard College Bhangra, which was very fun.

Dr. Chan: Teach me about that. What is Bhangra?

Ha: So Bhangra is this dance from the Punjabi region, which is a region in India. A lot of times it's like . . . I don't quite know the exact history of it because whenever I would ask some of the captains about it, they would say something that was jokey. So I don't know if I can completely trust them with it.

Dr. Chan: No one really knows. It's a mystery.

Ha: But I'm pretty sure it sometimes was related to celebration, because it's a very joyous dance. And the thing I say about they would always make it very jokey is because whenever we danced, the captains would get very angry that we weren't smiling big enough. Because they would always say to us, "You guys are celebrating that you're getting crops. You are so happy that you are going to be fed for the next year. So smile like it."

It was really fun. It's very dynamic. A lot of jumping. A lot of squats. And a lot of yelling sounds halfway through to get the spirit up.

Dr. Chan: Any orthopedic injuries?

Ha: No. Though I guess now that I think about it, I do have a lot more ankle and knee injuries from hiking than normal.

Dr. Chan: Sounds really intense.

Ha: Yeah. It was definitely . . . I remember the first time I started it, it was because my block mate wanted . . . it was an open house, so she convinced us to go with her. And the first day I came out I was really sore. But after a while, you get used to it.

Dr. Chan: Awesome. So you're having a great time and you're still thinking about medicine. What was your strategy with graduation? Because you graduated and then you had a gap year or two, right?

Ha: Yeah, I had a gap year.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Yeah. So let's talk about that. What was your thinking?

Ha: So, I think, in the medical path, I decided to major in biomedical engineering because I felt that was a really . . . I really like to see science applied, and problem-solve, and design solutions. And I felt biomedical engineering could give me that background, and it also helped fulfill all the premed requirements within the course itself. And so I decided to do that.

And I did look into a couple of . . . I volunteered at a primary care clinic for a summer. And then I also did research. And so I did those little things, but definitely, I got really busy with the other activities that, by the time I graduated, I knew that there were still holes and that I might still need to do a lot more exploration to really figure out my place.

Dr. Chan: Holes in your application?

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Or would you say holes in your desire? You weren't 100% sure you wanted to go down the medical path or what?

Ha: Well, I feel like a lot of moments you sometimes face a lot of self-doubt with medicine because it's so competitive and you sometimes wonder, "Am I good enough for this?" And so there is always that that you feel about it.

But it was more holes in my application and I felt that I didn't really quite understand what I wanted to do with medicine yet. All I knew was that there was something about it that really drew me in. And whenever I was in the clinic, or working, or hearing about medical problems, it made me really excited in ways that a lot of times a lot of other things didn't. But I knew that I needed more experience to really understand for certain about it.

Dr. Chan: So, when you graduated, did you decide to stay in Boston or what was your . . .

Ha: I was ready to go home. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Okay. So came back to Utah.

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: How did that go? I mean, you're living in Boston, and I know it's a jump, and then you get used to the art scene and the restaurants. Yeah. So coming back . . .

Ha: I think the hardest adjustment was that when you graduate from a school like Harvard, a lot of people go their separate ways. And a lot of people end up focusing in Boston, New York, Bay Area, and D.C. And those are the main hubs. And so, going back to Salt Lake City, I felt a lot farther from all of these people who I had made a lot of wonderful memories with, a lot of people who I refer to as my sisters essentially. So that was the big adjustment.

It was definitely that these were the people that I would go every week to watch films and discuss the way that they were getting shot and making critiques about the film with. And suddenly I wasn't doing that anymore, so it was weird. It was definitely isolating for a while.

Dr. Chan: Because your high school friends, a lot of them are probably still around here, but they have their own lives and they're doing their thing.

Ha: So a lot of them also went out of state for college and then also stayed out of state after graduation.

Dr. Chan: Thus is West's high school's reputation. Yes. West High School does a great job of placing students around the country.

Ha: Yeah. So I did have a couple of friends here and they definitely helped, but as you said, they were very busy with their own lives. But I will say I was really happy to just be home.

There's one thing . . . you never really appreciate seeing mountains all around you until you leave to a place that's sea level and you don't see mountains anymore. And I really missed my family. A lot had happened in my family while I was gone and it was really hard for me to realize that I was thousands of miles away and couldn't be there for them when they needed me most. So I really wanted to just be home with them again.

Dr. Chan: So you come back to Utah. And how do you start plugging those holes in your application? What kind of stuff did you start doing?

Ha: So I returned to the research . . . well, I was working remotely for the research lab. I started throwing myself back into the research lab that I worked with in Utah.

And then I also started looking for more volunteering opportunities because I definitely realized I was a bit more . . . I did a bit of volunteering here and there when I had the time for it, but it wasn't something very longitudinal. So I started volunteering at Primary Children's Hospital. I started volunteering at the Utah AIDS Foundation. And then I also found another part-time job that I really enjoyed at the Hope Lodge.

Dr. Chan: Oh, okay. What were you doing there?

Ha: So I was a coordinator, and basically, it's when there's off hours so that the full-time staff isn't there, I'm there to make sure that the guests have all that they really need. And if there are any concerns, I deal with those concerns.

Dr. Chan: For the people who don't know, what is the Hope Lodge? What's their mission?

Ha: Yeah. So the Hope Lodge is . . . basically, it's cancer patient housing. And what it does is it serves people who live within a 40-mile radius away from Salt Lake City and have to come into Salt Lake to get treatment. So, for this Hope Lodge specifically, it was a lot of people from rural Utah, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.

Dr. Chan: Interesting.

Ha: And they would come down here and it was completely free. And so they would be able to stay there and have a place to go to while they were getting their really long treatments. So, as a coordinator, I just made sure that if they had any issues with their rooms or any medical concerns, I referred them to the right person. I also just helped them. A lot of them had never been in Salt Lake, so I would help them find out where the markets are, and give them tips about restaurants, tell them about things that they can do.

And sometimes every month I liked to organize a food-related event for them. So most of the times, because I would work weekend shifts, there weren't that many people there because some people would go home for the weekends. Other people didn't have appointments, so they didn't need to be there. And so I would just typically just have cookies out or donuts or things like that. But sometimes I would make smoothies or cook waffles, which was always a hit with the guests.

So that was the Hope Lodge. And I really liked that because both of my grandparents dealt with cancer. So it had a really big personal connection to me.

Dr. Chan: It sounds like you did some really amazing experiences after you came back here.

Ha: I felt they were very important to me, yeah.

Dr. Chan: So you're doing these and I assume you have your eye towards the application process. What was your strategy going in? It sounds like you had a strong pull to stay in Utah. And they say for interviewers, you should never ask a question you don't really know the answer to, but I'm going to ask you a question. Did you apply broadly, or did you, again, put all your eggs in one basket?

Ha: Well, actually, if I had felt comfortable with it, I would have liked to have just applied to Utah early and make it my one school. But I did realize that in some cases my application wasn't the strongest. And so, when I talked with my advisor, they recommended that I just apply broadly because they felt it was just better to get into a med school than to not . . .

Dr. Chan: Not get into med school.

Ha: . . . get into a school. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Like a good advisor would . . . all right. So how many schools did you apply to?

Ha: Over 30.

Dr. Chan: Thirty? Wow. Okay.

Ha: Yeah. A lot.

Dr. Chan: Okay. MD and DO, or just MD?

Ha: Just MD.

Dr. Chan: Just MD. All right. And then I assume, because again I've done this job long though, the secondaries started to roll in, and that in and of itself could be like a full-time job, right?

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: So how did you deal with that? What was your strategy? Bang them out as soon as they came in, or would you let critical mass and then . . .

Ha: So I ended up submitting my application a bit later than I wanted to, but that was also good because it took about a month for them to process my application and have the secondaries roll in. And during that time, secondaries were rolling in for people who had gotten them in earlier. So I would check Student Doctor Net, which this is the only time I would typically say to check Student Doctor Net.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. I know Student Doctor Net.

Ha: And I would look up all the secondary questions at the schools I was applying to that got posted and I'd start pre-writing. So that helped when the secondaries started rolling in. But there was a point where things were getting a bit overwhelming and I had to take some vacation time off of work just to lock myself in a cafe and write secondaries 24/7.

Dr. Chan: Yeah, you're on deadlines like "Crimson" time, right? Deadlines, you've got to get this stuff in. Yeah.

Ha: I will say I'm appreciative of all the writing deadlines because I got really good at cranking stuff out really quickly.

Dr. Chan: So all these medical schools are asking similar questions. Similar, but little different questions, and yeah, you just have to be careful. So 30 schools, how many interview offers did you get?

Ha: I got five interview offers.

Dr. Chan: Okay. Good.

Ha: But I only went to four of them because I got into The U before the fifth one came up.

Dr. Chan: Okay. You were able to save some money.

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: All right. And you go out and start interviewing. What did you pick up on the interview trail? What did you learn? I assume different interview techniques were being administered.

Ha: Yeah. It was really interesting seeing the different vibes from different schools and also . . . even schools that would do MMIs had a very different approach to it. And then similarly, the traditional interviews also very different. So it got interesting trying to figure out how to adjust to all of those.

Another thing was it was interesting seeing what each school would emphasize, and when you'd go there, you would definitely see what a school was passionate about, what they were driven with.

What I was really interested in was the interviews that I went to, I found that they all had very common chains. They were all very interested in community service and they were interested in really integrating yourself into the community. And I guess that made me think like, "Well, I guess my application must have said something that made those specific schools interested in it." Yeah.

Dr. Chan: It resonated. Yeah. Did you apply to Harvard Medical School, HMS?

Ha: Yes.

Dr. Chan: Okay. We had a joke at Stanford that you had to be really, really good to . . . they didn't like their own graduates. It was very rare for someone to graduate from Stanford undergrad and also enter Stanford Med. There's a handful of people to do it, but it was very . . . yeah.

Ha: Yeah. My advisor was just like, "Yeah, maybe." I just kept pushing it. And finally, I was like, "Okay." But at Harvard, they do take in a lot of Harvard grads too.

Dr. Chan: All right. So you're out interviewing, you're learning about the different schools, you're getting the vibe, and seeing what they emphasize. It's interesting because I think we try to emphasize certain things, but there are still students . . . applicants still . . . it's all about their perception, right? So sometimes there's a disconnect.

And then you got into The U. Were we your top choice or did you have this struggling period like, "Oh, I don't know"? How did you navigate that?

Ha: No, it was definitely . . . the moment I got into The U, I was like, "Good. I'm set." Because I was just really hoping that I would get into The U. It was where I really wanted to be.

Dr. Chan: Why did you choose the U?

Ha: Because first, definitely, I wanted to stay close to home. Four years away made me really just realize a lot of what you miss when you're not close there. And so I really wanted to be close, especially since now it's just my mom without my grandparents. So I wanted to be with her.

But also, I think . . . so a lot of the reasons, like the people and the reasons why I got into medicine, were here at this hospital system because my grandparents were always at The U, or the Huntsman. And I also had a lot of doctors that I really loved and that I got a lot from were also from The U.

When I was in high school, when I was still thinking about, "Would I be premed or not?" I did a hospital internship at the VA and that was what really solidified my decision to go into premed. The research that I really fell in love with and enjoyed was at The U. And so I think the things that brought me to medicine the most were always in Utah.

Dr. Chan: I do remember when I called you, you were a little shocked, but also very happy. I could tell.

Ha: Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Again, I got the vibe from you that you were going to stay here. But then again, with your Harvard background, like, "You probably got into other places," like Boston. So I said, "Okay." So, in my mind, I think you were leaning towards us, but I felt like, "Oh . . ." You know?

Ha: I was definitely very joyous. Actually, I was walking from a room where I was processing western blots to back to my lab and I passed by the VA, the building to VA lobby, as the call came. And I burst into tears afterwards. So I had to find a little corner in the lobby and just cry.

Dr. Chan: So sweet. So glad you're here. You're going to make me cry. Yeah.

So school starts very soon. And I'm not going to hold you to this, but where do you see yourself going? What kind of doctor do you think you will want to be? To be honest, I love this question because I'm going to have you come back on the pod, and I'm going to ask you again. But just to see, as you get more experience, if that starts changing. Because you have a wealth of experience already, so I'm just . . . where do you think you're headed right now?

Ha: Specialty-wise, I'm going to leave it open because I know that once you actually get into the rotations, you figure out which vibes with you a lot more. But I really want to work with underserved populations. I can't imagine not being involved in the community or doing some aspect of community health in the future.

And a lot of doing with my research lab, I've gotten exposed to a bit of academic medicine and I do really like teaching and mentorship. So, if I can somehow do that into it, that would be ideal.

Dr. Chan: Would you even touch . . . like global health, would you do a rotation back in Vietnam?

Ha: I would love to actually do a rotation in Vietnam.

Dr. Chan: How's your Vietnamese?

Ha: Proficient, but my mom always tells me I need to get better. So I guess not good enough.

Dr. Chan: All right. If you were to go to Vietnam right now and start talking, would people say, "Eh, you have an accent"?

Ha: They know I'm an American.

Dr. Chan: Okay. They would pick up that you're . . .

Ha: Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Chan: Okay. All right.

Ha: Yeah. So I definitely need to get on that, but I would love to do either a health project with Vietnam or to go and rotate at a hospital.

Dr. Chan: That'd be so cool. Yeah. That'd be awesome. Well, last question. If there's anyone listening out there who's thinking about going to med school or might have some doubts, what would you say to them? What advice would you give them?

Ha: That's a tough question because I feel like I could go off for five hours with thoughts. But I think the thing that I would say is that a lot of times, choosing this path, it can be very scary, and there are a lot of times where you're filled with self-doubt. But if you're ever facing self-doubt and uncertain if it's the best path for you or if you're going to make it, I would just really think about why you love medicine. Follow that "Why medicine?" and do activities that really ground you in it.

Because I also do know that sometimes you're looking like, "Oh, I have to do 1,000 hours of this, and this, and this." But it's easy to get caught up in those numbers, in those statistics. But if you just figure out what drives you and really follow that, you'll eventually stumble into your own form of medicine that's really you and really personal. And you'll be very happy with it.

Dr. Chan: That's fantastic. Thank you for coming on.

Ha: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Chan: And we'll have to have you come back. I don't know if we have a student newspaper, but maybe you should help get it off the ground. I don't know if you'll have time.

Ha: I will say, even though I didn't do news, which was the most stressful, I did arts, which was very chill.

Dr. Chan: We do have an arts magazine. It's like an annual edition.

Ha: That sounds cool

Dr. Chan: Rubor. Am I saying that right? The Rubor people will talk . . . yeah, you'll learn more about Rubor when the school picks up. All right. Thank you, Ha.

Ha: Thank you so much.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to "Talking Admissions and Med Student Life" with Dr. Benjamin Chan, the ultimate resource to help you on your journey to and through medical school. A production of The Scope Health Sciences Radio, online at