Connecting with communities: How one Doctors of BC bursary recipient found her calling during the pandemic

August 13, 2020

Jian Weng, a UBC medical student and Doctors of BC bursary recipient who graduated in 2020, is one of many students who are exploring and enhancing their future medical careers during the pandemic. 

“I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I have had – which is in large part because of Doctors of BC,” she says. “The bursary has given me the means and financial freedom to develop the medical career I want, as well as pursue the extracurricular work that has allowed me to become more involved in a community that I care for deeply.”

Jian%20WengDuring her third-year clinical placement at St. Paul’s Hospital, Weng realized that she wanted to pursue a medical career focused on community health and addictions medicine. At the time, she was helping underserved communities in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Many of the patients Weng saw expressed worries beyond their immediate health care needs, such as securing an income and housing or struggling with substance use disorders. 

She says that she had many inspiring patient encounters but that one particular experience has been etched into her memory.

“One patient had a serious infection,” she says. “But she would often leave the hospital before completing her treatment because she didn’t fully understand the magnitude of his condition. After a few days, she would come back because he was so sick.”

Throughout the six-week placement, Weng routinely checked-in on the patient, forming a relationship of mutual respect that would eventually support her recovery. 

“Every day I would bring her favourite drink.,” she says. “We would chat about how she slept, what her pain level was like and the need for her to stay in hospital.”

From these interactions, Weng says the patient agreed to stay for the long-term antibiotic treatment she desperately needed.

“She fully recovered from the infection,” she says. “I felt a sense of accomplishment and connection from that. It’s not just about treating patients but also seeing them as people, and trying to understand their struggles and motivations.”

Alternative path

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit British Columbia, UBC transitioned to online learning for the safety students and faculty. Weng wondered how she could continue supporting people in the community while physically distancing. 

Drawing from her experience at St. Paul’s, she reached out to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and began fielding calls for the COVID-19 helpline.

“I’m not seeing patients face-to-face,” she says. “But I still hear from people that are experiencing the possibility of being infected, talking to them, hearing about what they and their families are going through, and providing them with professional advice and comfort.”

Despite the challenges that have emerged from the pandemic, Weng continues to find ways to connect and help people from various communities in safe and thoughtful ways. 

She is currently working on a pilot project with the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) to provide treatment for people with a history of substance use who are struggling with abstinence. 

Although it is a small project, Weng hopes it will grow so that more people will get the help that they need. 

Moving forward

As Weng looks forward to her post-graduation plans, community continues to be at the forefront. And while COVID-19 has certainly changed many aspects of daily life, she continues to contribute to people’s health and wellness in any way she can.