Jessica Wang, a rising fourth -year student in the MD/MPH dual degree program, became interested in the topic of opioid misuse during an MPH course, where she assessed the availability of overdose-reversing drugs in Chicago. Since then, she’s continued to investigate opioids in Illinois, and it’s informed her desire to practice family medicine: where she hopes to combine direct patient care with social aspects of health.
Read a Q&A with Wang below.
Why did you choose Feinberg?
I chose Feinberg because of the strong dual MD/MPH program and the many opportunities to become engaged in public health in the city of Chicago. When I visited as an interviewee and at Second Look, I remember being blown away at the variety of things students could do; everything from specialty free clinics to tutoring and health fairs. Being at a school that valued engaging students with diverse populations was important to me. Additionally, being able to go to school in a large, exciting city such as Chicago was another significant draw!
What are your medical or research interests?
Honestly, there hasn’t been a clerkship in my third-year that I did not like. I am pursuing a residency in family medicine because I love the idea of seeing patients of all ages, both when they are well for preventive visits and when they have active medical concerns.
Do you participate in any organizations or societies at Feinberg?
As a first-year student, I decided to try something completely new to me and joined Docappella, Feinberg’s student-run a cappella group. I’d never sang as part of a group before, but I found it was a lot of fun. I was also part of the student leadership for Devon Clinic, the free primary clinic that operates in the Devon area of Chicago serving a predominantly a South Asian population.
Though my time has been more limited for activities as a third and fourth-year student, I still sing occasionally with friends — shout-out here to the members of my informal rock band, The Hypochondriacs. I also still volunteer regularly with Keep Your Heart Healthy and the Night Ministry because I find leaving Streeterville and engaging with other Chicago communities keeps me grounded amidst the hubbub of med school.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
I love that even in the short time I’ve been taking care of patients, I already have a handful whom I’ve seen multiple times and have been able to follow longitudinally in multiple care settings throughout the hospital. Having the ability to be there for them and be their advocate is a very rewarding experience, especially when I get to play a role in making them feel better.
What advice would you give to prospective medical students?
Do not underestimate the value of staying in touch with friends and family while being a trainee in medicine! I can’t tell you how many times simply meeting with an old friend for coffee, lunch, or a phone call has left me feeling refreshed and re-energized to tackle med school.
Let’s talk about your Area of Scholarly Concentration project. Why were you interested in opioid-related visits to emergency departments?
Initially I became involved in opioid research during my first year through a project I did for an MPH foundations class. Back then, the goal was to assess naloxone availability from pharmacies across Chicago (naloxone is a medication that can be used by first responders or friends and family in the emergency setting to reverse the deadly effects of opioid overdose). It was a natural extension to think about the next steps in patient care after an overdose, which often occurs in an emergency department.
What did you find?
When I looked at my data outlining opioid-related emergency department visits in the state of Illinois over the past two years, death was the outcome more frequently among non-Hispanic whites relative to non-Hispanic blacks or Hispanics. This is perhaps surprising if we consider other major public health concerns, such as maternal mortality or lead poisoning, because the disparity among race is usually follows the opposite pattern.
Sadly, I think it is because the opioid epidemic is not discriminating in the “traditional” sense that opioids have gained so much attention in the media. It shouldn’t take an epidemic that affects a racial majority for the epidemic to gain as much attention as it has.
Additionally, heroin has been by far the greatest opioid culprit in Illinois, but this may not be the case in other states across the US. Public health strategies need to be customized for every community, which is why active, ongoing public health efforts regionally are so important (and should be funded).
What did you learn about the scientific process?
The easy part of research is getting numbers and running it through a program. The harder part is figuring out what your results mean in the greater scheme of things. It was a new experience for me to attend opioid summits and meet with leaders who are addressing the opioid epidemic right now in Chicago to try and make sense of what all the data meant.