From Junior Doctor to Surgical Skills Intern

As a middle school student, Fiona Chou ’25 worked to build a community of “junior doctors” by creating a science-based, research-driven YouTube channel. Inspired by a middle school teacher with a passion not just for science, but for making science accessible, Fiona spent hours poring over medical journals, scientific publications, and websites to develop content for her channel. She relied heavily on information published by medical vanguards, including the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.

“I wanted to create a platform for people who had the same interests as me,” says Fiona, who, in her middle school videos wears a white lab coat while using both physical and digital models to walk her viewers through lessons on the anatomy of the heart, disorders of the central nervous system, the health benefits of chocolate, and SARS-CoV-2, to name just a few.

Over the summer and with assistance from a Meg Page ’74 Fellowship, Fiona traded her lab coat for scrubs and became part of a new and larger community of people who share her interests—and her passion—for science and medicine. Through a cardiothoracic surgical skills internship at UCLA School of Medicine, Fiona networked with pre-med students, medical interns, med school professors, and practicing surgeons.

Sponsored by the American Academy of Medicine and Surgery (AAMS), the internship program is a two-week, highly competitive and interactive classroom, laboratory, and lecture intensive that leads participants through the first steps toward mastering fundamental cardiothoracic surgical skills, and toward more complex cardiothoracic surgeries. Using porcine hearts in a wet lab, Fiona performed a range of surgical procedures, from aortic valve replacements and coronary artery bypass grafts, to cardiothoracic dissections and aortic vessel ligations.

“Performing the procedures was really enriching for me,” Fiona says. “It was also really fun.”

Fiona prepped for each day’s practicum by tapping into the scientific research skills she honed as a passionate science student and digital content creator. At 6:00 am each day, she began preparing for the 8:00 am lab by researching and studying the day’s scheduled surgical procedure. Her preparation might also include tying and retying surgical knots, or testing herself on anatomy through blind drawings.

“You really have to learn the anatomy of the heart to perform those procedures successfully, and properly tied knots are so critical to all surgical procedures,” Fiona explains. “It is really important to have both things down.”

The program instructors were practicing physicians, who lent not only their medical expertise to the program, but their personal insights and experiences into what it takes to become a surgeon.

“Our teacher is an attending surgeon at UCLA School of Medicine, and continually tied what we were learning to his own experiences in the OR,” Fiona recalls. “He talked about a range of experiences that even went back to his days as a surgical resident, and how those experiences made him the doctor he is today. We also had afternoon sessions with other medical students and attending surgeons from UCLA and other universities who gave us a very broad view of their day-to-day lives, including some of the challenges they faced along the way. Understanding their journeys was very meaningful for me, as it gave me a preview of what my future might look like. I am certain, now, that medical school is definitely the path for me.”

See what a day in Fiona’s life as a surgical intern was like here, on her YouTube channel:

To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, the Meg Page’74 fellowship is awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.