December 16, 2016

Aisling Zhao: Breaking boundaries

Medicine in Mandarin elective expands ability of med students to reach more patients

Medical student with her family

Our Medicine in Mandarin is an elective course designed to teach medical terminology and phrases in Mandarin with a focus on developing the skills necessary to interact and communicate with patients in this language. Any med student with intermediate to advanced knowledge of spoken Mandarin is welcome to apply for this elective.

Last year, M2 Aisling Zhao was one of 10 students who applied after learning about it at the beginning of school. Here she answers seven questions about this course, and what it means to her education and future plans.

What interested you about taking the Medicine in Mandarin elective?

I was excited to improve my Mandarin language skills and to communicate more fluently on health care with my family and the greater Chinese community. I also have an interest in public health (I plan on pursuing an MPH) and recognize the value of being bilingual to better serve a wider community.

Were you already familiar with Mandarin before taking this course?

I grew up speaking some Mandarin at home with my parents, who are native speakers from Beijing. So while not completely fluent, I felt fairly well prepared to take the class.

What are some other ways Medicine in Mandarin can impact your medical education?

It would be great for Western medical providers to understand more about the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Not only are there many non-Western medicines and therapies used by Chinese-speaking populations, but also different ways of understanding illness that Western medical providers should be aware when making treatment decisions.

What benefits do you see for your career?

Medical professionals with additional language skills will inevitably have the opportunity to use those skills in clinical environments. It is a valuable opportunity for those students who already have some Mandarin language skills to learn medical terminology so that they can more effectively and confidently communicate with peers and patients in the those future interactions.

Do you get a chance to practice Mandarin outside of the course?

I have used my medical Mandarin skills in a few professional contexts thus far, e.g., the UAAMSA health fairs, and in my own research conducting health needs surveys in older Chinese-American populations. Besides that, my family has utilized my new medical terminology extensively with our relatives in China. I look forward to having many more opportunities to use these skills when we start our clinical rotations in the spring! 

How will this course support your career plans?

I will likely work in primary care in a community health setting that will include serving immigrant populations. Having medical Mandarin language skills is in full support of my interest in doing public health work in the future.

What would you say to a prospective student about the benefits of attending the University of Michigan for medical school?

The University of Michigan Medical School community is full of friendly, kind and supportive people, in both the student body and amongst the faculty. The degree of support and effort to ensure our wellness here is truly unparalleled. I really appreciate all of the support I’ve received here from people I now consider some of my closest friends and mentors. I couldn’t do this without you all!