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Emory School of Medicine Match Day 2023

Stephanie Liu-Lam & Oliver Liu-Lam

Matched: Emory University

Stephanie Liu-Lam is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and attended Dartmouth College for her undergraduate degree, majoring in biology.

“Volunteering as a patient advocate in undergrad and having the ability to empower patients during vulnerable and pivotal decision-making moments in their care ultimately brought me to medicine,” she says. Before medical school, she spent a gap year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a clinical study coordinator researching maternal infant health.

Oliver Liu-Lam, Stephanie’s husband, is also a fourth-year medical student at Emory. “There wasn’t a ‘couples match’ system for medical school applications so we were grateful and excited to both be accepted to Emory, a program that we independently loved,” she says. They both wanted to train at a safety-net hospital like Grady and to serve refugee and immigrant populations in nearby Clarkston.

The pair was able to participate in the couples match for residency. Matching as a couple allows two residency applicants to link their rank-order lists, usually for purposes of obtaining positions in the same geographic location. “In a way it feels like we are couples matching for the second time as we applied to medical schools together! We are grateful that a system exists to support our ability to continue training in the same location and are excited to see where this next stage of training takes us,” Oliver says.

As a resident at Emory, Stephanie will continue her training in psychiatry.

“Growing up surrounded by immigrant families, I saw the importance of preventative care and longitudinal patient-physician relationships in healing communities,” says Stephanie, who arrived at medical school imagining a career in family medicine. “However, I unexpectedly fell in love with psychiatry during my third-year rotations.

“Treating psychiatric illness is intimately linked with understanding and responding to the social issues underlying each patient presentation. I witnessed patients receive comprehensive mental health treatment and subsequently interview for their first jobs, secure safe housing and restore fraught relationships with loved ones,” she continues. “This experience cultivated my passion to provide trauma-informed and culturally responsive care for communities in need as a psychiatrist.”

Originally from Hong Kong, Oliver Liu-Lam immigrated on his own at age 14 to Cincinnati, where he attended high school and met Stephanie. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and worked as a campus chaplain for five years, during which he walked alongside college students in their most vulnerable moments. Each encounter with his students, along with the steps taken toward healing, ultimately informed his values of advocacy and service that drove him to pursue medicine.

For his residency at Emory, Oliver will continue his training in otolaryngology–head and neck surgery.

“I was first drawn to the field by the technically challenging surgeries – resecting a mandible full of malignant tumor and repurposing a new jaw from a fibula,” he explains. “But as I explored the breadth of otolaryngology, I recognized the power and opportunity to address patients’ most pressing concerns and provide for patients what often matters most to their quality of life: the ability to hear a loved one’s voice for the first time, to share a meal at the dining room table free from pain and to have a conversation without gasping for air.” It is a field that pairs his love for problem-solving and critical thinking with the ability to create meaningful change through the work of his hands.

Caring for underserved communities

As they considered residency programs, the couple looked for programs with two priorities in mind: first, to be close to loved ones, and second, to be able to care for medically underserved populations. It was these same priorities that drew them to Emory for medical school.

“Emory’s mission and location uniquely fulfill both of those values. We both love Emory’s psychiatry and otolaryngology departments, which have provided exceptional training and unwavering support for us,” they note. Stephanie’s parents and elderly Yorkshire terrier, Hippo, live just 30 minutes away. The support and care from her family was essential to their wellness and mental health during the past four years.

Stephanie has been a coordinator with the Harriet Tubman Women’s Clinic at the Clarkston Community Health Center since her first year of medical school. The teaching clinic provides care for uninsured and underserved women. As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, she is passionate about improving care in language-discordant health care encounters.

In this role, she has learned to advocate for refugee patients whose health care decisions are heavily influenced by cultural and religious values. The patient navigation responsibilities of the role have been deeply meaningful. As a coordinator, Stephanie helps patients receive follow-up care and navigate the frustrating bureaucracy of the health care system to ensure that patients receive essential treatment.

“I’ve loved working with this team and engaging in creative problem-solving to get our patients care that they so desperately need. It’s infuriating and incredibly motivating to recognize that without this work, these patients would be without necessary health care,” she says.

Another one of Stephanie’s passions is working with the Nia Project, a free, comprehensive behavioral health program located at Grady that provides individual and group therapy for Black women who are survivors of interpersonal violence and suicide.

“Working with the Nia Project was like being welcomed into a family. I spent my Discovery months (and additional elective time) co-leading groups and conducting research on intimate partner violence,” she says. As a part of the Nia Project, she had the opportunity to co-lead skills-based groups, support groups and empowerment focused groups. “I cannot say enough wonderful things about my mentor, Dr. Nadine Kaslow (founder of the Nia Project), and the team of psychologists who taught me so much about psychotherapy and how to center patients and their community in this work,” says Stephanie.

Hearing colleagues’ stories of the effects of mental health stigma and barriers to care motivated Stephanie to advocate for medical student mental health and wellness during her second year of medical school. In a hierarchical field filled with long training hours where burnout is so prevalent, systemic changes toward mental health reform are imperative.

Stephanie worked with her colleague, Matthew Brown, to propose a wellness half-day policy for Emory’s clerkship curriculum where students were granted required, “no questions asked” half-days for the sole purpose of student wellness. “It’s incredibly rewarding to witness my colleagues use these half-days to be well and advocate for their needs during one of the most grueling years of medical school,” she says.

Oliver also made a personal impact at Grady and with the refugee community in Clarkston. “As a trainee at Grady and a volunteer in the Clarkston community, I had the opportunity and privilege to learn how to care for and counsel patients from underserved communities with formidable barriers to health care from my peers and mentors who are also neighbors, teachers, advocates and policy makers in the community,” he says. “I learned that providing holistic care to patients requires physicians to be holistic participants in the communities to which their patients belong.”

Other important experiences during his time at Emory include serving in the Student Curriculum Committee and the Medical Student Senate during all four years of medical school, where he was able to explore his career interest in medical education while also advocating for his classmates. He was part of a group that created and proposed a longitudinal curriculum to incorporate teaching the electronic health record in medical school. He was also involved with the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association, assisting during interview days and mentoring Emory pre-medical students.

“The most memorable moments in medical school were those of sharing life together with my classmates: the late nights in the anatomy lab, the private messages on Zoom accidentally sent to all, the communal studying for board exams, the knowing nods given in hospital hallways, and certainly, the opening of a fateful envelope,” he says.

About this story: Writing by Rashmi Raveendran, Jen King and Elizabeth Pittman Thompson. Photos by Jack Kearse. Video by Damon Meharg.

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