Summer Journeys: Fiona Chou ’25, A Deeper Dive into Medical Education
During the summer of 2022, Fiona Chou ’25 completed a surgical skills internship at UCLA; it represented the culmination of years of informal study and personal projects around public health and medicine, including running a YouTube channel for “junior doctors.” Sponsored by the American Academy of Medicine and Surgery (AAMS), the internship program was designed to help participants take the first steps toward mastering fundamental cardiothoracic surgical skills, and toward more complex cardiothoracic surgeries. Inspired by the experience, Fiona returned to UCLA again last summer, this time as a student in the Advanced Cardiothoracic Surgical Skills Program.

“Not only did I look forward to continuing to develop the fine motor skills needed to perform surgery, but I was really excited to learn congenital heart disease operations and try practicing laparoscopic surgery,” says Fiona. “I was also able to gain a deeper understanding of human physiology and anatomy, and a deeper understanding of the nuances and bioethical topics doctors and surgeons encounter daily—which was the most meaningful and enlightening part of the experience.”

The advanced program was an extension of the work Fiona did last summer, which was a prerequisite for enrollment.

“While the focus last year was on learning motor skills for simple surgeries like coronary artery bypass grafts or aortic valve replacements, the focus this year was on mastering the physiology of the human heart to perform complex surgeries that require multiple steps, like the Ross, Norwood, and Atrial Septic Defect Repair Procedures.”

All of the procedures, Fiona says, were challenging but interesting. She was particularly fascinated by the Ross Procedure.

“The Ross Procedure can take up to eight hours because surgeons are working with newborn hearts,” Fiona explains. “The procedure requires a lot of steps to ensure success. We were also able to perform an ultrasound and develop laparoscopic surgical skills, which turned out to be extremely hard. It is already hard to perform surgery with direct contact with a patient’s fascia, but it was even harder when I had to use laparoscopic Debakey forceps to maneuver my sutures. Through a lot of practice with the kits, I was eventually able to maneuver the laparoscopic tools more smoothly. It was very rewarding to finally be able to do such a complicated procedure!”

The program included many opportunities for networking and attending additional lectures with UCLA surgeons, doctors, and medical students. During a conversation with a practicing surgeon, Fiona learned a bit about the connection between heart and kidney function; her interest was piqued. During her free time, Fiona began participating in online education sessions about kidney physiology and health. She took her interest one step further when the program ended and she returned to Taiwan.

“I applied for an opportunity to shadow a nephrologist at the Jia-Kang Kidney Dialysis Center,” Fiona says. “It was extremely competitive, as there was only one shadowing intern spot for the head doctor at that kidney dialysis center. With two years of surgical skills experience, I am extremely grateful to have been selected to shadow Dr. Li for two weeks. Not only was I able to gain a deeper understanding of the kidney and the multiple diseases associated with it, but more importantly, I was also able to engage in patient care. The interactions with the patients were extremely eye-opening experiences for me because I was finally able to meet the patients. Instead of looking at case studies, these real-life interactions gave me a further sense of responsibility to ensure they are healthy both mentally and physically.”

And now that she has returned to Taft, Fiona is ready to share her experiences with the Taft community both in the classroom and through the Public Health Club at Taft, which she co-co-founded last year.

“The Public Health Club has already begun discussing possibilities of bringing these insights to the greater Waterbury community. While most surgical knowledge is extremely advanced and confined to professionals, I believe that it is extremely important to educate the public about basic surgical knowledge, as everyone should be informed about issues related to the care they might be receiving one day. Furthermore, I find bioethical discussions extremely interesting and rewarding, and I am sure that my peers and others would be fascinated by the depth of nuances of medicine once the topic is introduced to the community.”

As she did during her first internship, Fiona created a “day in the life” video about her internship experience. You can view that video here.

Fiona’s experience was made possible in part by a Meg Page ’74 Fellowship, which honors Page’s commitment to compassionate health care. These fellowships are 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.