Pneumothorax may have knocked the wind out of Patrick Lee, but it also sparked his interest in a career in medicine.
The 24-year-old medical student at the University of Cincinnati was attending high school in Taipei, Taiwan, when doctors diagnosed the disorder in which air leaks into the space between the lung and the chest wall causing at least a portion of the lung to collapse.
"That happened when I was in high school when I was a junior,” says Lee. "It really kind of scared me. I was hospitalized for a long time but that introduced me to the interactions between the patient, me, and my physician, and that really was an inspiring part of my life because I really did appreciate all the physician did for me.”
Lee is following a physician’s path as a healer who also has the intellectual curiosity of a scientist. He’s completing his first year of medical school at UC and was recently awarded the 2016 Alpha Omega Alpha Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship. The award provides financial support for medical students with an interest in clinical investigation or basic laboratory research. Lee will do research in a laboratory at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center under the direction of Theresa Alenghat, VMD, PhD, assistant professor in the UC Department of Pediatrics.
"Medicine is really important to me because I really enjoy that patient-physician interaction,” says Lee. "That’s something I really want to build upon going forward in medicine.”
Lee, who has had a couple of surgeries for his condition, once thought he wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Now he’s less interested in the chest and appears fixated with the gut. His proposal submitted for his student research fellowship looked at the epigenetics of inflammatory bowel disease and its interaction with gut microbes in mice.
"I definitely want to be a physician scientist,” says Lee, a San Jose, California native, who at age 11 moved with his parents to Taiwan. "I think it is really important to be able to apply my knowledge in a clinical sense towards research and try to advance scientific knowledge. In terms of specialty, I am going with my interest which is gastroenterology right now.”
"There is so little we know about gut microbes, but researchers say they outnumber our human cells 10-to-1 and that is fascinating,” says Lee. "We have yet to discover what kind of links gut bacteria has to human health, how our bacteria interact with us and how that leads to healthy lifestyles.”
Alenghat describes Lee as having exceptional potential as a physician-scientist.
"It is clear to me that Patrick is intelligent, works hard, possess strong intellectual curiosity and has a great sense of humor and positive attitude,” explains Alenghat. "This fellowship will enhance his development as a physician-scientist and enable him to conduct research in our lab that will increase our understanding of the microbiota and inflammatory bowel disease.”
Lee says his interest in laboratories dates back to his days as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California where he majored in Biological Sciences. There he was interested in microbiology and worked in a laboratory that focused on environmental microbiology and looked at bacteria in the ocean.
In his senior year at USC, located in the heart of Los Angeles, Lee worked in a virology lab investigating the world of viruses. Sunny California may have a lot to offer, but the Queen City beckoned, and Lee answered its call. He came to the UC in 2014, for the Special Master’s in Physiology program in the College of Medicine.
"I was looking for a program to help me get into medical school, and UC has a really great Special Master’s program in physiology,” says Lee. "I really like the program because it has a small class of 32 people. It compared favorably to other programs where you had hundreds of people. I really liked the closeness we got in this program and that brought me here and I eventually got into medical school.”
At UC, Lee with a group of medical students has started the Gastrointestinal and Nutrition Interest Group, plans to be a student orientation leader for next year’s incoming class of medical students and enjoys being part of the culinary club in the College of Medicine.
"I definitely think a balance in your life is really important in medical school,” says Lee. "We do get involved a lot and sometimes we are consumed with studying.”
But Lee does have some hobbies that keep him grounded.
"I like to play basketball, and I also like to cook and it does take a long time, but cooking is rewarding and it helps me relieve stress. I think the reason I started cooking was I really missed home. I missed Taiwan and the food there, and that’s why I started cooking. I could get my cravings satisfied.”
"I really like Cincinnati,” says Lee. "There was a lot of traffic and a lot of things going on in Los Angeles. Cincinnati is really a relaxing place to be for medical school. I really enjoy it here. I mean there is so much nature here which is awesome, and there is no traffic.”