This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2021. Visit our Class of 2021 virtual space to share in the excitement with our newest graduates.
The final year of medical school is incredibly challenging for students. Managing electives and conducting CaRMS interviews is stressful enough. Factor in the added difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s almost impossible to comprehend how much the Class of 2021 has accomplished.
Yet Grace Dao, in keeping with her name, managed these responsibilities with aplomb, all while preparing to welcome the newest member of her family — her infant son, Ernie.
“It was definitely a bit chaotic and plans changed multiple times,” says Grace. “It was hard being pregnant and not knowing where I would end up for residency, but I found my preceptors were very understanding and supportive. I tried to focus on one day at a time, with varying success, but because of that, I was able to have a positive fourth-year experience.”
The importance of relationships
While intently focused on completing her medical education, Grace made the purposeful decision to prioritize her life goals and relationships outside of medicine. As a result of this courageous decision, she and her husband made the equally courageous decision to grow their family in the midst of a pandemic.
“I have definitely grown in terms of knowing how to better integrate these things,” says Dr. Dao. “I have learned that I study more efficiently and provide better patient care when my relationships are healthy and when my day-to-day activities and choices align with what is important to me.”
Her holistic approach to life also drew Grace to pursue residency training in family medicine in her home province of New Brunswick.
“I wanted to pursue primary care because, more than any other field of medicine I have encountered, it values the patient relationship,” she says. “Family Medicine combines my love of education and preventative medicine, my passion for communication, and the opportunity to walk alongside the most vulnerable and build relationships.”
Care across cultures
Her desire to pursue medicine was ignited by her experiences in Guatemala, first on a church mission and later on medical trips where she worked alongside her physician father in community clinics. She found that learning Spanish was the key that unlocked a deeper understanding of the power of communication.
“I was amazed at how a few words allowed me the privilege to show care and honour to people who are often oppressed and undervalued,” she recalls. “I was humbled by how knowing Spanish allowed me to communicate a diagnosis and speak to people in a way they could understand and appreciate. There was something about the learning of a new language that allowed me to grasp how grateful I am to be able to communicate in general, and how applicable and rewarding it is to use this skill in medicine.”
Motherhood and medicine
As Grace prepares to set off on two very profound journeys in her life — motherhood and medicine — she is quick to acknowledge that her accomplishments to date would not have been possible without the support of her husband, family, faith, friends, and community.
“They have all been so supportive throughout my medical journey,” says. “They have provided everything from timely words of wisdom, much needed laughter, help around the house, prayers, shared tears and so much more.”
She also recognizes that her four years in medical school were much different than her peers’ – and that’s okay.
“My career trajectory, the way I study or prioritize, doesn’t have to look like my peers,” says Grace. “Accepting this helps me to be able to genuinely celebrate my peer’s successes without insecurity and adapt my learning to my own unique needs.”
And now, with graduation upon her and her residency placement secured, she says, “I am beyond excited to practice as a family physician. I plan on staying in New Brunswick and setting up my practice here.”
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