This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Rui Dai…
Accepted: First, some basics: Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your favorite flavor ice cream?
Rui: I call Cleveland, Ohio home, but I was born in Kunming, China and spent some of my childhood in Germany before moving to Cleveland at age 10. I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school in Cleveland. It’s the place I know best and I’m a fierce defender of the great city.
I went to Duke for undergrad and majored in neuroscience. I liked it so much that I decided to stay for grad school!
My favorite ice cream flavor is dark chocolate. The darker the better.
Accepted: What year are you at Duke University School of Medicine?
Rui: I just started my 2nd year at Duke Med, but unlike most medical schools that start their clinical year in 3rd year, clinical year starts at the beginning of 2nd year at Duke. So I’m headed to the wards in a couple weeks, with radiology as my first rotation. Kind of nervous, but super excited!
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about med school so far — med school in general and Duke in particular?
Rui: I love interacting with patients and taking part in procedures. In the spring of first year at Duke, you can go into clinic as part of Spring Clinic and basically act like a medical personnel. I was able to interview patients on my own and even write notes for the attending doctor to review. I love that there are so many teaching opportunities, for students to just learn. I was able to meet so many different patients and put a face to all the knowledge that we were learning in the classroom. Everyone in the hospital is so friendly. Even scrub nurses, who have to keep a tight rein on the operating room so the procedure proceeds with order and nothing is contaminated, will help you learn everything you need to know, and remind you if you’re about to make a typical med student mistake.
Accepted: If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Rui: I think Duke really takes to heart a quote by William Osler, who laid the foundation for modern medicine, that “To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.” Duke’s aim is for us to be humanist doctors, who will treat patients as a whole, and not just the disease. Our responsibility is to the patients and their wellbeing. And to do that, the Duke curriculum makes sure that we are never too far from the hospital, physically and mentally. This can sometimes take a toll on the basic science material that we are supposed to learn in the first 2 years of medical school for the first step of the licensing exam.
I’m sure in 20 years, the basic science material that we’re learning in the classroom will only peripherally matter to the patients that we are treating, and some of which will certainly be out of date, but as a student right now it can sometimes be hard to consume all the information in only 1 year. However, there seems to be a trend of medical schools adopting the Duke Model, so there must be something that’s going well with this system. Right?
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming first year students, to help make their adjustment to med school easier?
Rui: My number one advice, as numerous other people have told before I started medical school, would certainly be: don’t stress. Things will happen in their own time. Cramming that biochem book before school begins can certainly seems like the right thing to do, but take time to enjoy your summer. It will most likely be one of your last. You will have very little time to do so once everything else starts: residency, fellowship, and establishing a career. Take time and relax at home. Go backpacking in Europe. Spend every single moment you can soaking up the sun at the beach!
Accepted: Did you go straight from college to med school? Or did you take time off?
Rui: I went directly from college to medical school, but there are certainly times when I wished that I had taken a gap year. Senior year of college, while interviewing every other weekend, was absolutely brutal.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the med school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Rui: The interview was definitely the most challenging part. Though I enjoy hanging out with friends and meeting people, I am an introvert and need time alone to myself to recuperate. I used to leave Wednesday or Thursday for a 2 day interview, because I was applying for MD/PhD programs, come back on the weekend and just not leave my room until I had to go to class.
Accepted: Can you talk more about your decision to pursue an MD/PhD? What are your long-term goals? What is the structure/timeline of the program?
Rui: I’ve always loved research. My mother is a neuroscientist at Case Western Research University and ever since I was in kindergarten, I’ve spent time sitting in labs with her and my father, poking around here and there. I love the lab environment and I ultimately want to run my own lab in the future. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation when discussing science and the idea that there is a limitless possibilities of what we could discover with the tools we could cook up.
At the same time, I am personally committed to finding a therapeutic cure to help patients. I want my research to be as intimately tied to patients as it is possible. I enjoy the clinic, listening to patients, and meet individuals from all walks of life that I would never had the opportunity to otherwise.
The MD/PhD program allows me to combine the two aspects of science and medicine together. The program is 8 years in total and is structured starting with 2 years of medical school, followed by 4-5 years of PhD, and 2 years of medical school. At Duke, this structure is slightly different, because research is also incorporated into the medical school curriculum, so there is only 1 more year of medical school after finishing the PhD.
Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our med school applicant readers?
Rui: Medicine is a marathon and not a sprint. Depending on what you ultimately end up doing, you will most likely be working till your late 60s, if not 70s or 80s. Be sure to love what you’re doing. Medicine is an amazing career, and there’s nothing else I could imagine myself doing, but physician burnout is no secret. The work is hard, the pay does not reflect the time nor the effort required (especially during residency), and not all patients appreciate how much you care. Take care of yourself. Medicine requires many sacrifices, but be sure you don’t sacrifice too much before you realize it’s too late.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your writing for VOICES?
Rui: VOICES is a student-run bi-annual literary magazine for the medical community to express themselves. We have an open policy of no restrictions on the form or format of the submission. Even if it can’t be physically published, we will still accept a photograph of it. The magazine website has pdf and html links to all the published magazines.
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You can read more about Rui’s med school journey by checking out some of her articles here. Thank you Rui for sharing your story with us!
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