“It was intense, fast-paced, and more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done.” This is part of the response Amy Zhao Li, MMSc ‘17, provided when asked to describe the biggest challenge of Yale School of Medicine’s Physician Associate Program. Looking at Li’s substantial experience prior to the Yale PA Program adds important context to her comment, making evident the rigor of the 28-month program, which includes a year of didactic training, 14 months of clinical rotations, and an intensive thesis requirement.
Li brought a global perspective and strong research experience to the PA Program. She graduated from high school in Oman, received a BS in genetics and molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has an MPhil from the department of surgery at the University of Hong Kong. During her master’s program, she was involved in laboratory animal research, and after graduating, she worked in clinical trials at Merck and on patents at an intellectual property firm in Hong Kong. She then spent nine years as a scientific officer for the Hong Kong government, working in public health epidemiology, where her team was tasked with surveillance of infectious diseases and understanding the epidemiological trends of respiratory diseases with epidemic potential, including SARS, avian influenza, H1N1 flu, and MERS. Li also has lived in Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Beijing, providing her with broad exposure to different cultures.
While most of Li’s pre-Yale life has been outside the United States and the PA profession is concentrated in the U.S., she learned about the field in part through her sister, who works with PAs as a resident in Emergency Medicine in the U.S. Li had a desire to integrate her background in public health with clinical work, and saw the PA profession as a great avenue to do this: “Working in medicine and public health is almost like being a detective; it is challenging and demands that you be a lifelong learner, which I really enjoy, but most of all being able to find the right answer for a patient is always so rewarding. Personally, I find it an honor to be able to care for patients on an individual level, in their time of need, to be trusted with their concerns and be part of the solution.”
What attracted Li to Yale’s PA Program in particular, were its diversity, access to the latest research and innovation, abundant opportunities for service leadership, and the quality of clinical rotation sites and preceptors. Li found one of the most rewarding parts of her experience in the program was indeed the “depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of many of our clinical rotation site preceptors”, explaining that “quality preceptorship is so important to ensure that future PA students, regardless of their pre-PA background, are able to systematically and efficiently master the empathy and skills required to become exceptional clinicians.”
Li took advantage of the service leadership opportunities that had attracted her to Yale’s PA Program. For example, soon after starting the program, she became a junior clinical team member at HAVEN Free Clinic, which is a resource for underserved community members, and led Neighborhood Health Project, a student-run, community-based free clinic for blood pressure and diabetes health screening. Through the Interprofessional Longitudinal Clinical Experience (ILCE), a part of the PA Program curriculum, she was a member of a team with Yale students pursuing MD and nursing degrees, under the preceptorship of Brett Fortune, MD. Beyond the educational benefits of the ILCE, her team had the opportunity to work on a quality improvement project, which resulted in patient education material that was approved by Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH), about how to better manage pain with a nonpharmaceutical approach. Li also got involved with professional organizations, serving as an abstract reviewer for the American Public Health Association Annual Conference in 2016 and 2017, presenting a research poster on refugee health at the same conference, and participating in the Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants 2016 Student Leadership Conference.
Additionally, Li took advantage of opportunities at Yale beyond the YSM campus and YNHH, including hackathons and events sponsored by Yale School of Management and mentorship from Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. She was part of a team which presented a prototype for a wearable physical therapy aid that provides immediate feedback at the Yale Technology Summit 2016. Li stated she was very glad she took advantage of the multitude of opportunities across Yale.
The week before she graduated in December 2017, Li was one of the nine members of her class who received an Honors on her thesis project (“Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Asthma Control: A Randomized Controlled Trial”), which is a distinctive part of Yale’s PA Program.
Li will be working in hospital medicine at Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine, starting early this year. After her 28-month intensive and rewarding experience at YSM, she looks forward to practicing in one of the most diverse urban areas in the country, where the need for quality care is great.