Daniel Hsu '14
Daniel Hsu is a biochemistry major from Richardson, Texas. He used his Johnson Opportunity Grant to work at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan.
Even from the age of seven, I still remember the summer days my sister and I spent at our great-grandparent's farm in the mountains outside of Taipei. In the morning, we'd help our cousins, who were assigned the arduous task of picking over 20,000 apricots throughout the year, and by night we'd shamelessly hail down cars in order to sell fruit and do our part in the family business. On special weekends, we would squeeze twelve people into an eight-seater car and drive through the mountain range to go fishing in freezing waterfalls and camping alongside isolated rivers. Even as a child, I remember being fascinated by the exotic wildlife, the sloping countryside, and the diverse geographical landscape that Formosa--the beautiful island--had to offer. It was my paradise.
Fast-forward fifteen years, and this summer in Taipei was a little different. Unlike the cool mountain air, the temperatures in the capital of Taiwan never drop below ninety degrees. Instead of mountains, there are skyscrapers. Instead of trees, there is twenty-four hour city life. Instead of apricots, my backyard is now the medical center that houses the largest and most prestigious hospital in Taiwan: the Taipei Veterans General Hospital. Each floor of the twenty-four story main building concentrates in a designated medical specialty and the top floors are reserved for VIP members--the President of Taiwan being one of them.
As an intern at TVGH, my day is split into two parts: clinical and theoretical. My primary rotations within the hospital are gastroenterology, neurosurgery, and emergency medicine. Clinically, each day begins and ends in rounds with the attending physician and his or her team of medical students and residents. Throughout the day, the responsibilities of caring for the attending's ten to twenty patients are split between the team. As the other students in the program are international medical students and residents from various parts of Asia, I perform under the guidance of a senior medical student. The theory portion of the internship experience begins with a morning lecture at 7:00 a.m., then continues with Department Rounds, Grand Rounds, and a lecture series, before culminating in afternoon rounds. The educational component can vary dramatically, between 3 to 30 hours a week. Afterwards, any free time is split between shadowing physicians and making trips to the operating room, where I'm free to observe anything from a nephrectomy with the Da Vinci machine to the removal of a cranial invasive meningioma. At the end of two months, I had performed basic procedures, watched complicated surgeries, sat in on medical student lectures, shadowed physicians, and participated in patient differential diagnosis and history taking--in short, it was every aspiring physician's dream.
Yet underneath the beauty of the island, all is not what it seems. Smoking is especially endemic to the area and even more so, Hepatitis. 17% of the Taiwanese population is infected with Hepatitis C and 20% with Hepatitis B, which is the fourth highest percentage of infection in the world. For the majority of those infected, transmission occurs at birth and until around adolescence the virus replicates uncontrollably as it is virtually undetectable by one's childhood immune system. For this it is infamously named "the silent killer." During this time, virus reservoirs build up in various parts of the body, such that when the immune system finally catches up with the infection and "eliminates" the virus, these reservoirs remain and can cause chronic liver irritation. Consequently, up to one-fourth of those infected will develop serious liver complications including cirrhosis, jaundice, and hepatocellular carcinoma. To put it in perspective: for the population in Taipei of 7 million, approximately 350,000 people will develop life threatening liver complications from Hepatitis C.
This summer, I learned of the hidden world that exists behind the scenes of my childhood country. Through the Johnson Opportunity Grant and my internship at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, I have been afforded a rare and valuable insight into the issues that plague Taiwan and for that, I cannot be more grateful. While I'm not naïve enough to believe that the few ultrasounds I ran and patient examinations I performed were enough to save lives, I'm idealistic enough to believe that this insight is the first step towards pursuing a career path that will someday lead back the country I consider my second home. It is an insight that will serve as my motivation towards overcoming any obstacle that stands between me and becoming a physician. Perhaps Taiwan isn't the paradise I once believed it to be and maybe, with an M.D. or not, there's nothing I can do to change it. But it doesn't mean I can't try.