Twenty-seven years later, Dr. Lucy Hu is still teaching at Five Branches University and treating patients in the university’s health clinics, her private clinic in Palo Alto, and consulting with Stanford University pediatricians on difficult cases. She is the embodiment of the hero physician, tirelessly pursuing excellence to be of service to so many in need.
What is the most important attribute or virtue of an aspiring doctor? Are heroes born, or are they cultivated and nurtured?
Medicine is one of the most challenging, meaningful and rewarding professions. Being a doctor is one of the highest honors one can hope to achieve. It takes many years of education and persistent clinical training to master the subtle nuances of the human body and its response to illness. It takes commitment, perseverance, and sustained focus to actualize the long-held dream, often envisioned in childhood. Most importantly, it takes compassion and a willingness to serve others in times of greatest need. Times when all hope may be lost and the fear, anxiety, and worry over the fate of a loved one rest on the shoulders of a dedicated doctor to find the cause of an illness and administer a cure.
What happens when one is forced to deal with an insurmountable medical problem? While some fall to their knees and pray for advice, assurance, or even a miracle, others heroically take this labour into their own hands, doing everything in their power to solve the problem and find a solution. It is this willingness to act in the face of extreme adversity, even when there is little hope of finding a cure, that is the true miracle.
What makes some individuals challenge themselves in this way? When and how does one know they are meant to be a hero of medicine?
For Lucy Hu, Physician(China), LAc, the dream of being a doctor began in childhood. As she tells the story of the day she spoke with her father as a young child on the importance of becoming a doctor, she clasps her hands together, leans on the desk with the sleeves of her white coat rolled up, and looks at me with compassionate, jovial, and wise eyes, known by all of her patients and students. Being a doctor is one of the noblest pursuits one can undertake, her father told her. But even greater is to be a pediatrician. When a child is sick the whole family is worried and feels hopeless. They need not only a courageous doctor to find a cure, but also one who can be compassionate and warm to alleviate the fears of a young child, unaware of what is happening. It was then Lucy knew she wanted to be a pediatrician.
It is important to hold your dreams ahead of you to give you the motivation and courage to achieve them. Becoming a pediatrician means performing well in school, and most importantly on the medical entrance exam. After many years of tireless studying, she was successful in her preparatory coursework and achieved high marks on her medical entrance exam, allowing her to attend any of China’s prestigious medical schools.
Lucy graduated from Shenyang University School of Medicine in 1961 and began a 20 year career practicing at the Dalian Children’s Hospital during the tumultuous end of Chairman Mao’s regime and the subsequent cultural revolution. During the cultural revolution, all medical doctors were required to learn basic knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as it was deemed a cultural heritage.
Her commitment to service was further developed when the government had all physicians treat rural populations in the countryside unable to reach hospitals. She served for one year, treating children and adults with many different illnesses, including obstetrics and surgical emergencies. The main treatment modality was Acupuncture and TCM, due to the lack of medical supplies. During this year many additional challenges were presented: the team frequently moved from town-to-town, they encountered poor sleeping conditions, lack of access to laundry and showers, had minimal contact with family, and only very simple foods to eat.
Despite these hardships, the experience was very rewarding. It taught Lucy that medicine could be practiced anywhere, in any circumstance, as long as one was resourceful and possessed the willingness to serve those in need. She also witnessed firsthand the tremendous healing powers of Acupuncture and TCM.
Her greatest challenge was in 1983, when Lucy and her husband immigrated to Los Angeles, California, where her husband had family. For many months, her husband had a difficult time finding work in Los Angeles as an engineer. The family of three soon moved to Silicon Valley, after he finally secured a job in Cupertino. Lucy was still unable to work due to the many medical exams required, in addition to completing another medical residency, to practice medicine in the United States. Her fate was unknown and she did not know how she would help support her family.
After a month of living in Silicon Valley, she found a part-time job at the Stanford University library. “I was very grateful for this job. We had no family here, we did not know anyone, and we had very little money,” she said. Even though she lacked the knowledge of the library’s systemization, and had very little command of the English language, she was happy to work as a librarian and serve those who needed information, just like the many librarians that helped her as a medical student and doctor back home.
“This was very humbling for me because I was used to being a very high level and well respected pediatrician. Suddenly, I went to level zero, with no car, no job as a physician, no money, and having to take 3 buses for 2 ½ hours to get to the Stanford library for work,” Lucy explained as she looked down and shook her head, remembering those feelings.
Determined to practice medicine, Lucy valorously embarked on her self-study of the TCM literature to prepare for the California Acupuncture License Exam (CALE). For one year, she studied every night after dinner, while everyone was sleeping. She would stay awake until midnight, 1am, 2am, sometimes 6am studying, many nights falling asleep on her textbooks.
“My husband’s knowledge of English was much better than mine,” she said, “so during Christmas time, when he had vacation, we sat down all day and late into the night for 3 weeks translating the entire book The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted Kaptchuk. We used 5 Chinese-English dictionaries in order for me to learn the material in Chinese and remember it, so I could take the test in English. I had one other acupuncture book in Chinese, but my main book was the dictionary I bought from the Stanford library.” This dedication and commitment to the pursuit of medicine helped her pass the 1987 CALE on the first attempt. A very uncommon feat, even at the time, because the majority of acupuncturists attend graduate school to study for many years before taking the exam.
She opened a practice one month after getting her acupuncture license. Lucy and her husband hand built a three room clinic, including all of the walls, tables, and furniture to save on expenses. Knowing her true potential and her gifted abilities as a teacher and clinician, her husband urged her to pursue an instructor position offered at Five Branches University in Santa Cruz, California. Worried about driving the treacherous Highway 17 by herself, and teaching only in English, her husband spoke to one of the university’s founders, Dr. Joanna Zhao, Physician (China), LAc, during the interview.
“I remember him whispering in my ear, ‘Lucy is worried and scared, but she is excellent and only needs to be pushed a little,’” recalled Dr. Zhao. After the interview, President Ron Zaidman and Dr. Zhao asked Lucy to start the next day, assuring her she had enough training and knowledge to be a professor. Additionally, they offered to help translate any English terms or phrases unknown to her. Due to her perseverance and decades of clinical experience, Lucy needed very little help.
Twenty-seven years later, Dr. Lucy Hu is still teaching at Five Branches University and treating patients in the university’s health clinics, her own private clinic in Palo Alto, as well as consulting with Stanford University pediatricians on difficult cases. She is the embodiment of the hero physician, tirelessly pursuing excellence to be of service to so many in need. As one of her students myself, I am reminded that it takes not only dedication, intelligence and fortitude to be a great doctor, but also humility, laughter and compassion.
“Being a doctor is very special because you have the opportunity to save a life. Being a pediatrician, for me, is the most important because you can save the life of a child and help a family who is scared, and sick with worry.”
~Dr. Lucy Hu, Physician (China), LAc
Written by: Chase Waters, LAc, DAOM Fellow, MTCM
October 31, 2016
Read in: Chinese