HUDSON: If being a doctor is hereditary, then the profession skipped a generation in Connie Gan’s family.
Her parents emigrated from China in the 1990s amid an Internet boom. They found fitting careers in finance and technology. But Connie’s career plans have deeper family ties.
“All four of my grandparents are in China, and they are all doctors,” said Gan, a second-generation Chinese immigrant and Hudson High School senior.
Gan, 17, an Akron Beacon Journal Top 25 Star Student, plans to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps. She made the choice after her best friend’s mother died of stomach cancer and her grandfather also was diagnosed with cancer.
“I think it’s just the opportunity to improve someone’s life for the better,” she said. “Not many career choices allow you that opportunity to improve someone’s life every day.”
Being an ideal candidate for the medical profession requires focus, compassion and what her parents call “smart hands.”
Gan would play with Legos for hours as a child. Her parents recognized her diligence and steady hands.
Her father built on her focus and cultivated her passion for learning from an early age. He often gave her homework to complete when she had finished the work her school had assigned.
“At times I didn’t understand why I was doing it. But in the end, I guess I can only thank him,” she said.
She has been accepted to several universities across the country, including Rice University in Texas, Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Duke in North Carolina and Johns Hopkins in Maryland. But she wanted more than just academic prestige, an acclaimed medical program, a chance to swim competitively or a big-city college town with a Midwestern feel.
She wanted it all.
Gan dwindled the list down to Washington University in St. Louis, where she has accepted a nearly full ride to study biomedical or chemical engineering in the fall.
Unlike most medical programs, Gan said Washington University offers medical internships for undergraduates, “which is a big deal to me.”
Gan is already familiar with the inside of a hospital. She took a research internship at Northeast Ohio Medical University, then a hospital internship at the Cleveland Clinic, where she shadowed a doctor in a busy emergency room and observed brain and other surgeries in operating rooms. Outside of the hospitals, she explored alternative brain cancer treatments with fellow Advanced Placement chemistry students for a science fair.
By the time she graduates, Gan will have taken more AP classes, which translate to college credits, than most schools offer. She took four this year, a slight reprieve from the five she took last year.
During that junior year, she would wake up at 5:30 a.m. She swam laps in the pool at East Woods Elementary from 6 to 7:20 a.m. High school began at 8 a.m.
When most kids took a lunch break, she sat in on student government meetings as the organization’s treasurer. Right after school, she got back in the pool. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she lifted weights for an hour after swimming practice ended at 6 p.m. She’d get home by 7:30 p.m., take a shower and eat dinner.
“It’s about 8:30 by the time I’m ready to start my homework,” she said, pausing to catch her breath after an exhausting three minutes detailing her daily routine. “By then you’re kind of exhausted. And so sometimes I take a half-hour nap, but usually I don’t have time for that. So I do homework until about midnight or 1 in the morning, then get up at 5:30: rinse, repeat and do it again.”
An accomplished swimmer, she’s a four-year state qualifier with seven school records. For much of her time in the water, she has been racing against herself, besting or tying her own records.
“Swimming has been a great outlet for me,” she said. It has allowed an introverted Chinese girl to find friendship, she said. It has allowed a student scoring in the nation’s top 1 percent on college entrance exams to blow off some steam.
It has allowed her to test herself. College, she knows, is just another test in life.
“They keep coming, but they’re just tests” she said. “They’re tests that you learn to love. ... Life is one test after another. When I was running for student government treasurer, that was a test. Every time I swim a race, it’s a test of how hard I’ve prepared or how hard I’ve trained.”
Even her beliefs are tested during a special topics class where students engage each other.
“Every time we have a debate in there, it’s a test of what I believe in. That’s what life kind of is. And I don’t look at the tests as something that’s hard and something that I don’t look forward to. It’s just another test in a process of tests.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.