USTC Alumni Foundation conducts alumni interviews for all of us to exchange ideas on how to build USTC into a world-class institution, and to help ourselves excel at our chosen professions. As such, USTCAF doesn't necessarily endorse all statements made during the interviews.
Interview with Dr. Haoxing Liu   --by LIU Zheng (April 2000)
Zheng Liu: Thank you very much for accepting this interview. Would you please first introduce yourself?
Howard Liu: I entered USTC Department of Chemistry (12) in 1982. I graduated one year ahead of time in 1986 and came to the US. I studied two years in Department of Biochemistry, Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland and then transferred to Columbia University and obtained a Master's degree in its Department of Biochemistry in 1989. Afterwards I did research in a pharmaceutical company called Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in New York. In 1993, I entered NYU Medical School. Now I am finishing up my last year of residency of internal medicine in Harvard Medical school.
Zheng: What made you think of medical school when you were working in Regeneron?
Howard: Actually, part of the reason why I left Columbia was that I realized that my personality does not fit into working twelve hours a day in the lab. My personality fits better in dealing with people and taking care of their problems. Also, my grandfather was a famous Chinese Herbal doctor and both my parents were medical doctors graduated from medical schools in China. In a way, I carried the family torch. Being a doctor also brings stable jobs and respectable social status in this country.
Zheng: Would you please tell us briefly what medical students do in four years of study?
Howard: First two years of medical school involves learning of basic sciences, like Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology, and Pathology. In the third and fourth years, medical students spend time rotating through medicine, surgery, Ob/Gyn, pediatrics, neurology, psychiatry, and radiology. They can also take electives like dermatology, Ear/nose/throat (ENT), ophthalmology, and research etc.
Zheng: NYU School of Medicine is a very competitive medical school. How did you get in as a foreigner and how did you survive and excel?
Howard: I actually spent quite some time to prepare, taking some English writing lessons for the MCAT. I got pretty good scores in MCAT, that made admission into NYU a little easier. Any top-notch medical schools now all have at least a couple of Chinese students with basic science background, either with a MS or Ph.D. degree. These schools like to admit these type of students--they have the background to excel not only in clinical medicine also in the future as successful clinical researchers. In a way, we have some added advantage to make up for our deficiency in language skills and cultural backgrounds. Surviving and excelling in NYU was mainly hard work. My motivation was being the best doctor I can be. That helped me to go through those years.
Zheng: Have you had any difficulties as a Chinese in medical school?
Howard: Definitely a little, at least initially. I was the first student from mainland China to be admitted by NYU. Life at the beginning was difficult. I spent all my energy studying and trying to be friends with other students. After the first year, Tao Hong (838) also came to NYU, and also some other students from the mainland. We more or less formed a group, studied and partied together. Later in clinical years, other students and teachers started really see the ability of us Chinese students and they wanted to work with us more. Your work speaks for yourself. Chinese students, especially graduates of USTC had all the skills to excel in medical school. We had the solid mathematical, physical foundations. This background really prepared us very well for medical school, not only in the science aspect of medicine, also our reading habits, logical reasoning ability. The overall training from USTC really prepared us for any kind of undertaking.
Zheng: I heard that the two most difficult part of medical schools are 1. memorizing 2. long working hours, like 28 to 36 hours in a row. What do you think?
Howard: The second part definitely. I remember sometimes I worked for 36 hours straight, with only one or two hours of sleep. That schedule was very tough for anybody. As for memorizing things, initially it was hard, too. Slowly, I developed my own method, using cards, understanding the prefixes and suffixes words. It reached a critical mass after a while. Another problem, not only mainland Chinese have, also other students from eastern culture have, is that we are not assertive enough--we tend not to voice our opinions, too shy in a way to show off their ability. Later I learned to shout out my answers if I know them, and said, "this is my best guess" when I do not know the answers. The traditional culture taught us not to talk about anything unless one is very sure, not to speak unless be spoken to, these are not very well-suited for the medical school environment.
Zheng: Your research experience and company experience, did any of them help you later in medical school and now in residency?
Howard: My basic research experience in graduate school prepared me for medical school. The scientific logic is quite similar to clinical logic. You still make a hypothesis and try to prove it. Also looking at things critically, scrutinizing data and result is essential in clinical setting, too. My experience in Regeneron really helped me in personal skills. I learned to work cordially and make friends with people from different backgrounds and hierarchy in the company, that is the type of skills you do not really learn in universities.
Zheng: Could you tell me a little about your experience in residency?
Howard: After four years of medical school, one still has to go through at least three years of clinical training. The first year is called internship, second and third years are called residency. If one wants to go further, it is called fellowship. Residency can range from 3 years for internal medicine, 4 years for Ob/Gyn, 5 years for Radiology and General surgery, and 7 years for Neuro-surgery. After that, one can do another 1 to 3 years of fellowship. Compare to medical school, residency is much harder. As a doctor, for the first time, you are responsible for all the patients. You work for 36 hours straight, from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening the next day. Then you get 2 days of normal 8 to 5 working days. On the 5th day, another cycle begins. This is normally the first year of the three year residency, the toughest part. Second year is better, you start taking charge of the first year interns. Third year is even better, you are more comfortable with all the medical problems, and it is really the time to build up your career.
Zheng: You are in your third year now. May I ask about your job application?
Howard: Usually in September of the academic year residents start looking for jobs. I have accepted an offer to work for Boston University Medical center as an attending physician and instructor. I am pretty exited about working with patients.
Zheng: Would you encourage other alumni to go into this career track?
Howard: Yes, I would. For me, it worked out pretty well. It is very touching some patients I treated really would follow me wherever I go. That type of gratitude and trust developed between my patients and me are very satisfying and fulfilling. You feel you can really make a difference in somebody's life. The problem is the time and money investment. I have about $100,000 worth of loan to be paid back and seven years is a long time for anyone.
Zheng: Have you heard of the Alumni Foundation? How do you think of our work?
Howard: I learned about the Foundation during the Goodwill Scholarship Drive. I donated a small amount of money. I really feel it is extremely good that AF is organizing the effort of overseas alumni to improve KeDa's prestige, help students and alumni in need. I find most of the existing programs very well-thought. I wish I knew about AF's work earlier.
Zheng: As you know, all of us in AF are volunteers. Given the opportunity, would you like to get involved?
Howard: Certainly. Once I start my job, I will have more free time. I will be happy to help out. Also, if any alumni want to get into medical school, residency programs, etc, I would be happy to answer their questions and provide some information.
Zheng: Thank you so much for your time and your positive feedback about AF's work.
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