YUSI GONG: CHANNELING CURIOSITY TO DRIVE MEDICINE FORWARD
Yusi Gong’s intrinsic drive to understand how things work will contribute to her ultimate goal of driving the field of medicine forward. Today, she applies her curious mind and compassionate heart as she pursues her medical education at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.
Growing up in Acton, Massachusetts, Yusi was active in sports and music, but she credits her father, a bioinformatician, as a catalyst that grew her interest in math and science. When she chose to attend Tufts University for her undergraduate studies, she attended an accepted students day where she heard a lecture on regenerative medicine. This convinced Yusi that biomedical engineering was the path forward for her. The possibilities of what could be created sounded like a science fiction movie, and Yusi’s curiosity was piqued.
During her sophomore year at Tufts, Yusi joined a research group in a biophotonics lab, looking at novel imaging techniques for diagnostic imaging. She considers this experience formative, as it exposed her to the rigors of research. Yusi loved identifying the gaps of knowledge in the field, and she was drawn to the opportunity of discovering what was not yet known. However, Yusi began wondering how to apply the research methodology in a way that would allow her to interact with others more, bringing her closer to the patients it would one day affect. This was the first time she considered that something apart from engineering could be her path forward.
As a result, Yusi began volunteering with the Sharewood Project, the free medical clinic run by Tufts Medical Clinic. She quickly learned how much she loved connecting with the community, specifically the times she could utilize her Mandarin language skills by interacting with the many Chinese-speaking patients at the clinic. By her junior year at Tufts, Yusi served as the clinic coordinator.
After graduation, Yusi continued applying her curiosity at the Orthopedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research (OrACORe) at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. For the next two years, Yusi conducted research that looked at osteoarthritis treatment outcomes, and how different interventions can improve quality of life and costs for patients. Yusi’s skill sets and interests were stretched by the opportunity to work alongside clinicians that see the patients and the PhDs who understand and apply statistical and clinical research methodology, as well as how they work together to translate the problems seen in clinic into solutions for patients.
It was particularly impactful for Yusi to work under rheumatologist Dr. Jeffrey Katz during her time at Brigham, and today she counts him as one of her biggest role models. Many of his patients had been seeing him for years, and she loved getting to watch the deep trust and bonds he had built with them over time, all while working to improve their chronic conditions through research. It was his approach of running a large, high-impact research center while reserving a day for patient care that convinced Yusi to go into medicine, alleviating Yusi’s prior reservations. Through this example, Yusi learned, “There is room in this field for me to do all the things I want to do.” Now, Yusi sees that she can do both the research that allows her to move the field forward, but also work with patients, which she says “makes the hard work that I do meaningful.”
During her two years at Brigham, Yusi began volunteering at Rosie’s Place in Boston, the first women’s shelter in the country, which offers beds and educational programming for women. Yusi soon taught computer classes, English classes, and a writer’s workshop, which allowed her to build relationships with the guests at Rosie’s Place. She was inspired by their drive in the pursuit of English literacy, especially many who have never had the opportunity to do so in their home country. Yusi credits this experience as teaching her to work with people within their priorities and motivations in order to benefit them. Meanwhile, it helped Yusi to understand how fortunate she was to have the education and opportunities she has had.
Driven to move the field of medicine forward
Capitalizing on her research and volunteer experiences, Yusi is now pursuing her medical education at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Yusi seeks to be at the frontier of research in medicine, and chose her medical school through the same lens. Yusi was interested in the leadership opportunities that are available being at the very start of a new medical school, but in the end, she was drawn to the mission of the school, and the opportunity to push the boundaries on where medicine is heading.
As a student, Yusi’s curiosity has continued to be cultivated. She admires the diversity, resiliency and intelligence of her classmates, and she is learning from the example of her professors and mentors, who she says are driven to constantly learn more so they can be the best for their patients. “There is something to learn from everyone here,” she said.
Additionally, she is working hard to apply her new knowledge in the clinic to help patients. “The best thing is when I’m in clinic, and I can hear a patient’s story and come up with my own idea of what’s wrong with them. It’s really cool to be at that stage when we’re only seven months into school,” she said. Yet Yusi is not yet satisfied with the knowledge currently available, saying that she frequently asks in their problem-based learning sessions, “Why does this happen?”
“Everyone says, “Well, nobody knows yet.” I have to learn to accept it for now,” Yusi said. Yusi’s curiosity will no doubt serve to push the field forward, benefiting both her future patients and the field of medicine.