April's Ontario Medical Student of the Month: Anna Ly

The often exhausting grind of clerkship -- attempting to obtain those decisive yet elusive reference letters while experiencing the steep learning curve is extremely trying. In this context, it's easy to lose sight of the patient's real needs, but Anna never seemed to lose sight of what matters most. It was Anna's actions in this regard that deeply inspired myself and the other members of her internal medicine team. 

On one night call - the 6th or 7th overnight shift that month - Anna was assigned a patient who, among other medical problems, had had a stroke and who's speech was now incredibly slow and slurred. As a team, we quickly evaluated the patient and wrote the appropriate orders to tide him over for the night. By the book, all clinical tasks were complete. At this point it was 2 or 3 am and everyone scrambled onto the next clinical task, or for the lucky among us, to a quick hour or two of sleep. Anna, however, saw something that the rest of us missed in our haste: a person, filled with emotions from panic to despair to yearning. She quietly stayed behind and invested the time necessary to delve into those emotions. While everyone else had quickly moved on from the "90 year-old male with a stroke and dysarthria", Anna was able to connect with the person behind the diagnosis. She patiently waited on each painstakingly slow and difficult to understand word that contributed little to his evidence-based management, but made all the difference from a human side. Because of Anna, the patient became more than diagnosis and was comforted that night and through the last few weeks of his life. She invested a considerable amount of her own emotional fortitude in the patient.


There's a stronger incentive to move efficiently between clinical tasks in order to optimize clinical performance (in the eye's of supervisors) than there is to spend time on these intangible duties; but Anna always prioritizes these crucial yet unacclaimed duties for all of her patients. The anecdote above was only one example of multiple similar encounters. While the correct answers to obscure questions on clinical teaching rounds are rewarded, Anna's human qualities seemed to go unrecognized. This never seemed to bother her - because she's in it for the right reasons and hasn't lost sight of what's truly important.

Perhaps her compassion can partly be attributed to being a patient herself. In the past year, she underwent a surgical procedure while in medical school which allowed her to experience firsthand what it feels like to be a patient. She was touched not only by the kind and attentive providers directly involved in her care, but also by the genuine concern expressed by her medical educators. She understood the needs of the patient when she exposed her own vulnerabilities and placed her health and trust in the hands of strangers. 

When she’s not immersed in medicine, she enjoys a competitive game of volleyball. Last year with her co-captain, together they led U of T medicine’s womens intramural team to the final championships, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in over 5 years. Or she’s engaging young children in making healthy choices with Growing Up Healthy, a program aimed at helping young minds establish healthy habits for future benefit, which resonates with her Master's research in nutrition and cancer prevention. She also participates in various runs and half-marathons with friends and family, raising money for cancer research and engaging those around her in an active lifestyle that supports community health.

Anna embodies the ability of a medical student to make invaluable contributions to multiple aspects of our healthcare system, not only as a caring student in her current clinical practicum, but as a researcher in health sciences, in her daily life as a runner in charity races, an advocate of health in her community, and a team-player among her peers. And while the rest of us are sometimes too focused on clinical performance, Anna retaught me the most powerful lesson of my clinical career so far - we're here for our patients above all else.

-RS, R2 Internal Medicine, University of Toronto