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If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Kimberly Yau is a rising fourth year medical student at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Her studies and, in turn, her story was prompted by her father’s passing due to colon cancer. This UGA grad is our #WCW because of her diligence, compassion and resilience.

1. What's your story? What makes you unique?

The person I am today is a mosaic of all the people and experiences I have encountered in my life thus far. I am a diligent student, studying not only the signs, symptoms and pathology of disease, but also the interplay of illness, compassion, and healing. I am an animal lover, despite my allergies to essentially anything with fur, predictably squealing aloud each time I see a cute dog walking on the side of the road or a kitten on my Facebook feed. I’m an avid reader, exploring life through the written journeys and memoirs of others, and a believer in practicing mindfulness, which has helped me through many emotionally difficult situations. I pride myself on my resilience, my empathy for others, my loyalty to loved ones, and also on my hilariously extensive collection of clothing items featuring cats. I approach each day with a smile on my face and a tireless enthusiasm for learning, fortified by caffeine and the promise of pizza and wine.

2. What motivates you?

Each day, I am reminded of the privilege of practicing medicine and helping people when they are at their most vulnerable. Patients come to you when they are often frightened, in pain, or in need of guidance. They trust you with intimate details of their life that they wouldn’t dream of telling another person, because you have taken the Hippocratic Oath to “first do no harm.” Being able to share in that moment and be a part of someone’s story in that way definitely moves me to get out of bed every single morning.

3. Who is a hero of yours?

My mom, hands down. She is the strongest, most resilient, most loving person that I know. Life has not always been good or fair to her, but she has handled each obstacle with a degree of grace and kindness that I aspire to emulate. When I was in school, she simultaneously took care of her sick husband, supported her teenage daughter, and self-studied to become a CPA, never once complaining or faltering in her course. She is, and always has been, my strongest support, giving me the freedom and courage I need to chase my dreams. There is absolutely no way I could have accomplished what I have thus far without her.

4. Give us a road map of your career. How did you get to where you are today?

My father was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was in elementary school. His illness was an extremely formative experience for me, exposing me at a young age to the world of medicine and healthcare. He passed away when I was in high school, and I started my undergraduate career with a personal interest in studying colon cancer. After both three years of bench work involving colon cancer research and a multitude of physician shadowing experiences, I decided that the better fit for me was medical school, where I believed I could experience the intersection of science and human connection. As far as ending up at UVA, during the medical school application and interview season, I absolutely fell in love with, not only the program that UVA offered, but with the extraordinary people that I met. I felt like the students were genuinely happy, and it is a place I feel I have truly been able to thrive.

5. What's your future plan? Your goals?

I came into medical school thinking that I would most likely do something within internal medicine, leaning heavily towards hematology/oncology given my family history. Though I never saw myself as a surgeon, I was surprised to find, on my surgery block, that I actually loved being in the operating room. Still, there was a large part of me that really appreciated the intricacies of internal medicine, and I struggled to balance the two. I found the perfect combination of surgery, medicine, and procedures when I rotated through obstetrics and gynecology. I was able to form relationships with patients in clinic, and I was able to go into the OR and assist with hysterectomies and cesarean sections. Each day, I awoke with a feeling of excitement that has been unparalleled in my other rotations. I could not be more thrilled to pursue a career in the field of OB/GYN.

6. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

Life is too short. If you love someone, let them know.

7. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?

Education is so incredibly important. A lack of education breeds ignorance, hatred, and prejudice. There’s a reason that Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” You can turn on any news channel and see that so much of America is broken right now, and education is such a crucial aspect for its healing.

8. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?

I’m not sure if it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done, but it was an absolute dream to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during Carnival last year with a group of some of my closest friends in medical school. It was a whirlwind week filled with unforgettable memories of sandy beaches, dancing with strangers in the streets of Rio, delicious cuisine, and impromptu music shows. Our next adventure is in the works, and is going to feature multiple countries on different continents. Stay tuned, y’all.

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