A Job That's Actually Brain Surgery

March 13, 2014

Sarah Orbuch

Kendra LIan (center, background), a second-year student on the pre-med track, shadowed surgeons at Fujian Medical University Hospital in Fujian, China.
Photo credit: Kendra Lian

Being a member of the Oberlin College field hockey team is only one part of sophomore Kendra Lian's busy life, as she is a biochemistry major on a pre-med track. Lian spent this past winter term shadowing at the Fujian Medical University Hospital in Fujian, China.

Lian enjoyed a shadowing experience she had last summer with an OBGYN so much that she decided to go to China and continue her studies. Each day she would get up at 6 a.m. to catch a bus to the hospital, where she primarily followed two doctors, and got to pick what she wanted to do during each day.

"Everything varied from day to day. Some days there were more surgeries than others," said Lian. "One day I actually got to see ACL surgery, which was pretty crazy because I was looking at it and thinking, 'This happened to me two to three months ago!'"

Lian was also able to sit in on a brain surgery for about 20 minutes while doctors used a plasma knife to remove a growth from the patient. She describes the experience as surreal and one she was fully engrossed in.

"Just being able to stand so close and admire over 40 years' worth of thoughts, information, actions, and reactions was an amazing feeling. I was so captivated in just looking and thinking about the procedure that I didn't have time to feel disgusted or weirded out."

Near the end of her trip, Lian was invited to give an informal speech to a group of doctors who meet biweekly to practice their English speaking skills. She took the time to discuss Oberlin and the benefits of a liberal arts education.

After addressing the crowd of 15 for half an hour, she was asked a few questions, specifically about how politically active and informed students on American college campuses were. Lian believes she was able to provide insight and knowledge they otherwise may have not received.

"I think public speaking skills aren't particularly stressed in the early stages of the Chinese education system," said Lian, "so they were surprised that a college student could be proficient in doing so."

One of the most rewarding parts of the experience for Lian was seeing people who belonged in the medical profession.

"It was completely natural for these doctors to care for the people around them, regardless of whether or not they were their patients."

Dr. Li, one of the people Lian shadowed during her time in China, made it a point to emphasize "caring for other people is caring for yourself." That's the type of mentality that drives the doctors' lives, not just their work, according to Lian.

Although Lian traveled to China to learn about its medical world, the trip was more than just shadowing. Most of Lian's relatives still live in China, so visiting there was also an opportunity to see extended family.

"I don't often get the chance to go back, so I thought it would be fun to go and do something I do not normally do. I also improved my language skills and am now thinking about taking on an East Asian Studies minor," Lian said.

Lian's heritage is very important to her, thus she makes it part of her Oberlin experience. In addition to her science classes and field hockey, Lian is an officer in the Chinese Student Association and a Residential Assistant for Asia House.

"I grew up in Granville, Ohio, and I didn't get a lot of exposure to students who identify as Asian American, so I thought it was really important to explore that while I am at Oberlin. It is a part of my heritage that I still largely do not understand, even though I speak the language. Being closer to my heritage helps me understand my parents and family more."

There is no doubt that Lian finds many ways to stay busy, but at the end of the day there is always time for field hockey.

"I find that playing field hockey makes me do everything more efficiently. I love my team, and my coaches because they are my family here. They were the first people who made me comfortable with Oberlin, and they are the reason I decided to come here. Everyone is so unique and goofy, but we still manage to get along."

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