Faces of U of T Medicine: Grace Zhao
Grace Zhao is a first-year medical student, in the Class of 2T1. An ex-ballerina from Vancouver, Zhao rekindled her passion for dance at U of T through her involvement in Daffydil and the U of T Dance Team for MedGames 2018. She spoke to Faculty of Medicine writer Julia Soudat about dance, medical school and what inspired her to become a physician.
What made you want to become a doctor?
I have always enjoyed learning about the sciences while growing up. It’s funny, because no one in my family has a science background. My father has type II diabetes, and I didn’t realize the impact it has had on his life until he underwent two cataract surgeries. It impacted our whole family dynamic because he was unable to do many of his daily tasks. From then onwards, I developed a curiosity about diabetes and had thoughts about pursuing a career in medicine so that one day I would be knowledgeable enough to help manage his condition. My experiences volunteering in a hospital setting only reaffirmed my desire to pursue medicine.
Why did you choose U of T for medical school?
There are so many reasons! U of T Medicine is world-renowned with world-class affiliated hospitals and incredible faculty who are at the forefront of their respective fields. I was also attracted by the Foundations Curriculum, since I appreciate the flexibility to pursue my own interests, as well as the integrated approach to the study of health and disease. The opportunity to pursue a combined MSc in System Leadership and Innovation was another reason I was drawn to U of T, as I’m interested in learning about implementing systemic changes to address health equity and quality improvement within the healthcare system. And lastly - having lived in Vancouver all my life - I was at a stage where I was ready for change and moving to downtown Toronto sounded exciting!
What have been the most rewarding aspects of being at U of T so far? Greatest challenges?
Being a part of Daffydil has definitely been a major highlight for me. The Daffy family is a group of fun, talented individuals who continue to amaze me rehearsal after rehearsal. I was initially hesitant to audition as I had never been in a musical theatre production before, but I’d have to say that this was the best decision I made in medical school so far. I find it incredible that the whole production is student-run – from the writing of the script to the music played by the Daffy band!
Another highlight of mine was being involved with the Toronto Political Advocacy Committee, where I had the chance to meet City Councilor Joe Cressy to advocate for a data management system to better coordinate services for people experiencing homelessness. During my undergrad at the University of British Columbia, I had worked with a marginalized population in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and had witnessed first-hand the lack of resources they had to live a healthy life. Now as a medical student, I’m able to leverage my voice to advocate for such populations whose voices are often unheard.
The most rewarding aspect of being in medical school so far has been the opportunity to engage with patients early on in the school year through the Integrated Clinical Experience. And with Wednesdays off in the new curriculum, it is possible to set up observerships early on as well – there are a lot of opportunities to shadow physicians in a variety of settings and subspecialties.
I think the most challenging part of medical school is having to navigate through all of the things that students are expected to do while balancing the obligations outside of school. It’s easy to forget that there is a life outside of medical school sometimes.
Do you know what specialty you’d like to pursue?
As my undergrad specialization at UBC was in Cellular, Anatomical and Physiological Sciences, I am fascinated by the intricacies of the various organ systems. As such, I am considering internal medicine as well as family medicine. However, I am keeping an open mind as there are still many specialties that I have yet to shadow and clerkship years may provide me with a better idea.
What are your favourite parts about Toronto?
I love how lively downtown Toronto is! There seems to be events on every weekend. I am also a self-proclaimed foodie and I love how there are so many food options available from a variety of cultures. The city is vast, and I look forward to exploring as many different communities as I can throughout my time here.
How did you get into ballet and how are you pursuing your passion for dance while juggling the demands of medical school?
I had knock knees as a child, so my mom put me into ballet classes at the age of five in hopes of fixing that. I danced ballet for 10 years at the Goh Ballet Academy in Vancouver, with a few jazz and modern dance classes interspersed throughout the years. Ballet was my whole childhood. I was enrolled in a pre-professional half-day program at my high school; I went to school in the morning and then went straight to ballet classes in the afternoon. In 2010, I was offered the unique opportunity to perform at the Vancouver Olympics Victory Ceremony. It was a surreal once-in-a-lifetime experience because it was my first time performing at such a large stadium and I had the chance to meet a lot of Olympic athletes!
After stopping ballet, I continued to dance by joining my high school dance team. However, as university was a busy time, I did not have a chance to take dance classes. Now in medical school with the flexibility of the Foundations Curriculum, I am able to rekindle my passion for dance by joining Daffydil as a dancer and the U of T Med Dance Team (which competed at MedGames 2018)!
Aside from dance, what do you like to do outside of school?
I enjoy doing hot yoga because not only does it remind me of conditioning class back in my ballerina days, but it is stress-relieving and helps to maintain my flexibility. Another creative outlet for me is painting - so when I have the time, I like to attend Paint Nite events with my friends. Currently, I am training to run my first half-marathon in May, which I am equally excited and nervous about!
Faces of U of T Medicine introduces you to some of the interesting people studying in the Faculty of Medicine. From advising political leaders to providing care to Toronto’s most vulnerable populations, our students are making an impact on communities at home and around the world.
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