"I Can See Myself in STEM" Ambassador Profile - Grace Faith Chao, MD MSc

Grace Faith Chao, MD MSc

Surgeon, Health Services Researcher
National Clinician Scholars Program (Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor), Yale Department of Surgery
Twitter: @gfchao

Personal Statement:

When I was a little kid, I loved exploring my backyard, digging for earthworms and taking care of baby birds that had broken wings with my Ah Gong (grandpa). He was my first teacher, showing me how things grow outside. When I went to school, I wanted to know how things worked - Why could trees survive through the winter? Why do we need to breathe? Science was my favorite because I felt like the secrets of how the world worked were being revealed to me.

Tell us a little bit about the work you do:

Currently I am a surgeon. I operate on people who are sick to help them get better. I am also a health services researcher. My passion is working to understand why we are doing such a poor job taking care of people who are Black and Brown and figure out if there are ways that we can make healthcare better for them.

What types of things interested you when you were a kid?

When I was little, I loved reading. My parents took me to the library every weekend where I could pick out as many books as I wanted. Every book I read was a chance for me to go visit another world and learn something about the people there.  

What were your favorite subjects in school?

Spanish and Biology

Did you face any barriers or challenges growing up? What were they?

My parents didn't have very much when I was growing up. I was a WIC baby. But I was very fortunate because I got to participate in a pipeline program, Prep for Prep, starting in middle school which helps kids from inner-city neighborhoods prepare for college. I owe a lot of my success to them! I also faced classism and racism in middle and high school.

What type of advice do you have for girls who are interested in pursuing a STEM career?

No matter what you choose to do in life, give it your all. Just because something is difficult, doesn't mean it is impossible; it just means you haven't had a chance to learn it yet! Allow yourself a chance to grow. Not all spaces you are in were designed for you. That means that you have something so special to give there!  

Also, it is important to look for mentors and to ask for help. Sometimes I was worried that people would think I was not knowledgeable or weak, but asking for help allowed me to build relationships with mentors and allowed me an opportunity to grow so I could help others.

What do you think is one important piece of information you would like to share with our audience?

I have a "non-traditional" research career where I focus on health disparities and policy. I even had someone very high up once tell me in a residency interview that my interest in health disparities was a hobby and not a real career. I think that was a valuable experience because I realized that I believed what I was doing was important in helping others, so I kept working on it and talking about it with people. My interests have taken me to the White House, local public health departments, and communities in Wayne and Washtenaw county. What I want to tell girls is that it's important to reflect and to have a strong idea of who you are and what you stand for. The world will tell you a lot of things, but if you are clear about who you are, what is important to you, and what you can contribute to make the world better, you will live a full life learning and growing. 

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