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An Educated Decision

07/01/2013

When Jenny Ruan was growing up just two blocks from the front doors of Tufts Medical Center, she couldn’t have known the impact the surrounding medical facilities would have on her education or her career, but what she did know was that some day she was going to give back to the Asian community that was embracing her immigrant family.

The community respects her and knows that she is one of their own; Jenny blends clinical acumen, humility and compassion, in a seamless manner.

“My family moved here for the opportunities the United States offered – the American dream,” says Dr. Ruan who was born in Boston two years after her parents and brother arrived from the Canton Province of China. “It wasn’t easy. We lived the lifestyle of a first generation immigrant family, and financially it was tough. But living in the Chinatown community, we found support.”

Today, it is Dr. Ruan, a third year OB/GYN resident, who is offering support to the Medical Center’s Chinatown neighbors.

Dr. Ruan first got the bug for medicine and an idea of how she might give back to her community when she volunteered as a high school student in the playroom of Floating Hospital for Children, the full-service pediatric hospital of Tufts Medical Center.

“This was my first interaction with sick patients. In the playroom kids with feeding tubes and illnesses could get out of the hospital environment; they could be children. I liked being part of that,” Dr. Ruan says.

She also was influenced by her own care at Floating Hospital. She and her brother received their primary care in the hospital’s Asian Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic. Here, Chinese speaking practitioners work to blend American treatments and medicine with the cultural needs and expectations of the Asian community.

“From my experiences with Floating, I knew Tufts was a great institution,” Dr. Ruan says. So when she decided she did indeed want to pursue medicine as a career, Tufts University School of Medicine – also located in Chinatown – was at the top of the list. A standout undergraduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she could have gone almost anywhere in the United States, but she felt a connection to Chinatown and her mother encouraged her to stay local as her brother, also a TUSM student, had in 2002. She followed her heart, her mother’s advice and her brother’s footsteps and entered Tufts University’s Medical School in 2007.

“Starting medical school can be scary,” she says. “But being in the neighborhood and near family made the transition easier.”

The benefit of Dr. Ruan’s local presence was felt by Tufts Medical Center patients as well. The first two years of medical school are spent largely in the classroom, but in years three and four, students begin to round with attending physicians and interact with patients.  

“Being in medical school here allowed me to be plugged back in to the community,” she says. “Being able to talk to patients in their natural language was so rewarding. Many patients were trying to explain difficult issues in broken English; they were very happy when they learned I could speak their language. There is a strong connection when the medical provider can speak the language.  There is a nuance to the conversation.”

This experience was particularly meaningful to Dr. Ruan since her parents do not speak fluent English. She knew well the challenges these immigrants were facing in communicating their medical concerns.

Director of Urogynecology, Tanaz R. Ferzandi, MD has witnessed the effect Dr. Ruan has on her patients. “When a patient sees her enter the room and she starts talking to them, they light up. They feel  safe with her, and Jenny recognizes that.  She has a conversation with them and makes them feel comfortable to discuss intimately personal issues about their health that they might otherwise hesitate to do so,” Dr. Ferzandi says.

Dr. Ferzandi knows that some in the Asian community are skeptical of surgical procedures. She says that Dr. Ruan talks to them calmly about the options. “They respect her and know that she is one of their own, that she isn’t pushing Western medicine on them, that she understands.  As a doctor, she has the ability to blend clinical acumen, humility and compassion, in a seamless manner.  ”

Dr. Ruan has impressed Dr. Ferzandi in more ways beyond her bedside manner. “Jenny is extremely accomplished.  In her 4th year as a medical student she started a research project and completely of her own volition, worked to have it accepted. She was invited to give an oral presentation as an intern at the American Urogynecological Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting in 2011. That just doesn’t happen; we think she may be the only intern to have ever given such a presentation. And Jenny is so humble as she does all with no fanfare.  Her community and the rest of us are proud to see her flourish.”

Dr. Ruan has continued her impact on medicine at Tufts Medical Center for selecting the hospital as the place where she would complete her residency in obstetrics and gynecology. She was one of 5 students accepted into the sought -after program three years ago.

“For many immigrant families having a baby is their first hospital experience. This is a population that doesn’t actively seek out health care but having a baby pushes them to the hospital. I get to be there for them during this experience, to help them begin to navigate the health care system,” she says.

In the residency program at Tufts Medical Center, Dr. Ruan has also found a second family. “The program here is excellent. The staff is supportive, the residents are supportive. We all work together. Our group has been through challenges together, including the death of a fellow resident. Everyone always comes together to help each other.”

Dr. Ruan says being at Tufts Medical Center has given her the opportunity to give back that she was seeking when she began her medical education; she hopes to continue serving the Asian population.

The support she has received from the community just affirms her life choices. She says, “When I encounter a Chinese speaking patient, I get the sense they are proud of me. Someone in their community has achieved the American dream – a great education that allowed them to achieve a lot.”