1. Personal Development, Life & Work Experience, Activities and Adversities:
As a child, I found it humbling how ants – those tiny creatures belonging to an ancient species – achieve huge goals by functioning as a harmonious collective. Humanity’s success as the master race on this planet also relies on our interdependence as a harmonious community, but crucially, the willingness to innovate and disseminate knowledge that distinguishes human beings from other living creatures. In my own case, to make myself of more worth to other people, I have never stopped pursuing knowledge through academic education, and more importantly, through real life experiences.
Life itself is the best school. When I explore its amazing diversity, I continue to learn. The excitement of a prospective new career can often include a fear of the unknown, which is challenging to many people, including myself. However, I enjoy seeking solutions for unknowns, answering new questions in different ways, and soon becoming “expert” in the field. In the past 15 years, I have left my footprints in over 20 cities in China, Canada, Spain, the US and Central America. Meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds refreshed my ways of thinking, continually reshaped my understanding of a meaningful life, and taught me many things I was unaware I needed to learn. I applied my academic knowledge in life by enhancing other people's life quality, and in return, received more opportunities to go to the next level and to open my eyes with greater curiosity. Thanks to having the courage to make changes, I have been fortunate to be a clinical doctor, a microbiologist, a stem cell biologist and a product innovator in the biotech industry. As for paying back the community, I kept teaching through learning. I taught patients about medicine, taught kids how to extract DNA from a strawberry, taught the public how to make heart tissue from a single hair follicle, and taught myself how to absorb and exchange knowledge openly with others.
2. My Academic Pathway, Abilities, Successes, Challenges, Knowledge Gained, etc:
In 1997, when B Medical University, China’s top medical school, selected only one candidate per province, I believe that my excellent academic performance and my sincere wish to help patients earned me the honor to be accepted as an MD. Those five years of training proved invaluable. As the student union president, I led a group of medical professionals providing monthly education for the public about various topics, such as knowledge of HIV, blood donation, and healthy living habits. In the senior years of residency, I joined the International Committee of the Red Cross, and went to undeveloped communities to offer free medical treatment to children and senior citizens. Seeing over a hundred patients per day helped me master the skills of effective communication and the capacity for multi-tasking in a time-sensitive situation.
It was a prized accomplishment to be accepted into the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto, as the first foreign graduate student in the department’s history. Working on an extremely difficult project brought me to a valuable conclusion: “There is always a solution to a problem; just keep thinking laterally”. That approach, plus my consistent passion for innovative and critical thinking have continued to bring me success in my later scientific careers. From SCCRI, the first human embryonic stem cell institute of Canada, to FHCRC, the world famous cancer center where three Nobel laureates invented their bone marrow transplantation techniques for a leukaemia cure, to Sigma-Aldrich, the leader of global biotech industry, my performance has constantly exceeded expectations. My creativity and attention to detail frequently led me to unexpected discoveries, such as the invention of a new tuberculosis diagnosis kit, and my patented new markers screening for mature cardiomyocytes. I was rewarded with eight peer-reviewed publications including Molecular Therapy, two industrial patents, and four commercialized products advertised in Science June 2012.
3. My Ability & Willingness to Care for Others:
Although extending human life to an unlimited time is not yet realistic, reduction of people's physical suffering in this limited lifespan is a dream pursued by many medical professionals, including myself. “Health-related, life-entrusted”. The moment I stepped into the hallowed medical school, I made that solemn pledge. From then on, I committed my career and life to help and comfort people.
As I learned through residency, a patient’s health and feelings are always the priority. In 2000, my last rotation year in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I met Cao, a CEO in his 40’s suffering from hepatocellular carcinoma. To add to his misfortune, Cao had no family and had to fight his illness alone. I clearly saw the fear and loneliness in his eyes when he experienced jaundice and liver ascites. So, to temporarily distract him from his anxieties, I tried to spend extra time with him, listening to stories of his life and his career and chatting about random topics. One day, I told him that as a resident, I had heavy academic courses, with limited time for exams preparation and thesis writing. He asked “Could you teach me some of the knowledge you learned?” So I did, and he listened intently, with occasional questions. By the end of the day, I observed a relief in his eyes that I had not seen for a while. “Dr. Zhong, I struggled all my life for success, I seldom share my time with others, and I have no real friends other than in business. Thank you for spending so much time with me. I want you know that I regard you as my friend. I think I would like to rebuild my body and mind if I have a second chance.” Sadly, after a month, that bed was empty. Many patients of mine in the ICU were like sandcastles in the tide, slowly washing out to sea. I was honored to be regarded as a real friend by many of them, and to provide comfort to them in their last moments of life. My medical school training enriched my appreciation of the shortness of life, and gave me the gift of sharing with, teaching, and caring about all the vibrant lives around us. What is more beautiful than life?
4. My Reasons for Choosing Dentistry and What I Bring to the Profession & Society:
Two years ago, my mother lost her last natural teeth during her visit to me from China. My dentist Dr. Aulakh, showed us an artificial (plastic) mouth with an implanted tooth, “Either denture or whole mouth implants, they both have issues. It is unusual for people of her age to lose all her teeth.” He shook his head. Looking at mother’s empty mouth at her age of only 58, I felt sad for her. “A third option might come from you”, Dr. Aulakh smiled at me, “Since you are a stem cell scientist, could you regenerate new teeth for your mom?” I was almost floored by his suggestion, but soon felt the spark of an idea in my mind “Why not become a dentist and scientist myself?”
Around the late 1970’s in China, the concept of providing basic health knowledge to the public was generally lacking among health providers. No dental provider explained to mother that her teeth had started to fracture and fall to pieces because she breast fed me without any calcium supplement. That obvious cause is common knowledge today. One year after I was born, she had only a few natural teeth remaining. As I grew up, I witnessed too many victims suffering from oral issues due to a lack of knowledge, e.g. my own wife’s tetracycline teeth. I was also impressed by how much difference a dental provider can make, simply by providing basic oral education for patients. Thinking about Dr. Aulakh’s joking remark, I wondered how I could make a difference. My natural instincts as a stem cell scientist helped me to locate a publication, describing how one single gene, OSR2, is enough to regenerate a new tooth. This finding excited me, and I wondered could I apply my stem cell expertise in a dental career to benefit the general public? I reinforced my understanding and faith by shadowing dentists, and volunteering in the American Dental Association's Give Kids A Smile program. Dentists' professionalism, care, innovation, passion and continuous public teaching further boosted my enthusiasm. I was told: “Your background is special, and people need creative dentists”.
5. Other Information Pertinent to my Application:
Many of us, including myself, underestimate the power of one person's influence on other minds. In downtown Vancouver in 2010, , a young woman approached me. Although I thought she looked familiar, I honestly did not recall who she was. Noticing my puzzled expression, she told me that seven years earlier I had given her helpful advice when she lacked the courage to ask potential professors for opportunities in graduate school. “You told me to just knock on their doors, introduce yourself and the worst could be to get a “No”; I would lose nothing”. She smiled, “I used to be extremely shy, and tended to quit when I couldn’t see much chance for me; you changed my life.” “What do you do?” I was curious. “I am a regional sales manager here in Vancouver; whenever I need to secure new customers, your words help”. Later, I realized that everyone, not necessarily in any way extraordinary, can make a positive change to other people.
In many people's eyes, I am a well-established scientist. I believe that colleagues regard me as a persistent hard worker, a sharp thinker filled with curiosity and passion to explore unknowns in human health. However, I am convinced this success comes more from people who generously guided me with their intelligence, who encouraged and inspired me, and from those who spent extra hours unstintingly helping and teaching me. When I give my services to help other people's lives, I receive more in return every day. To me, this power of “giving” is a fundamental part of human nature, i.e. “giving makes people happier than taking”. It is so natural, and can be found everywhere.
One particular series of events led me to a closer understanding of what a good dentist can give to others. While browsing internet TopDentists.com looking for the best local dentist after I moved to St Louis from the West Coast, an article by Dr. Jeffery Dalin, who is co-founder of the Give Kids A Smile program, attracted my attention. This program brings in children, ages 5 to 12, for comprehensive dentistry, helping thousands of children to be free of pain and to smile again. When I became a patient of Dr. Dalin I confirmed my assumption that such a man feels a real responsibility to his patients; his passion to “give back to the community” quickly inspired me. I soon became a non-dental volunteer to this program, allowing me to contribute my enthusiasm to this expanding organization. As a chain reaction, my volunteering activities rewarded me with more opportunities to serve the neighborhood, distributing thousands of pairs of sports shoes and children’s tennis shoes to needy families, delivering free life science seminars to the public, educating visitors in local zoos and botanical gardens. My life is thus enriched by giving, filled with happiness and with friends of all ages. I hope to bring and spread my enthusiasm and expertise to Mcgill. Please allow me success today which will benefit more people tomorrow.