In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 8, 2017

Resident’s Reminder About Why He Went Into Medicine

By In the Loop

Hailon Wong, M.D., went into medicine to help underserved populations of patients both locally and abroad. Today, as a first-year Family Medicine resident at Mayo Clinic, he’s doing that and more -- even going so far as to learn the language many of them speak.

Hailon Wong, M.D., went into medicine to help underserved patients. Today, as a family medicine resident at Mayo Clinic, he’s already doing that and more.

From what we've heard, being a resident physician can be rather daunting. "Residency is definitely a tough few years, and there are times when it becomes easy to focus on 'getting the work done' and nothing else," Hailon Wong, M.D., a first-year family medicine resident at Mayo Family Clinic in Kasson, Minnesota, tells us. "And that's when we can lose sight of the vision that brought us into medicine in the first place."

For Dr. Wong, that "vision" is returning to his roots to work with underserved, predominantly Spanish-speaking patients both locally and abroad. "My folks are native Chinese, but I was born in South America and spent my first six years in Venezuela," he tells us. "When we moved to the States, I had to learn English and quickly forgot my Spanish."

Fortunately, it all came back to him during high school with the help of a "great" Spanish teacher who reintroduced Dr. Wong to the language. "I love the sound, tones, and rhythm of the Spanish language," he tells us.

So much so that after high school, Dr. Wong continued to study Spanish during his college years while also volunteering at a free medical clinic in his home state of Oklahoma that served a large Latino population. It was there, Dr. Wong says, that he fine-tuned his Spanish, and grew in his desire to work with underserved patients. "Being able to speak Spanish is simply another tool that allows me to better communicate with people who often already have enough barriers to seeking medical care," he tells us.

Like those, Dr. Wong says, who gathered recently at The Center Clinic in Dodge Center, Minnesota, to hear him talk about the link between mental and physical health. His talk was part of a "Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies" program put on by medical students at Mayo Clinic. "I'd never given a presentation in Spanish before, so I was very nervous," Dr. Wong tells us. "But thankfully, everybody was very kind and helped me whenever I had trouble coming up with a word or two."

Dr. Wong says he wanted those attending to come away with a better understanding of how stress affects our physical and emotional health, particularly in regard to obesity. "I also wanted to validate the struggles many of these folks face and to let them know there are people and resources within their communities that can help," Dr. Wong says.

Cesar Gonzalez, Ph.D., a psychologist at Mayo Family Clinic in Kasson, tells us one of the most poignant moments of the program came when a woman in the audience stood up to share her own struggle with stress-related fatigue. "You could hear her desperation for change," Dr. Gonzalez says.

Dr. Wong listened and, with a "calm, soft voice," told the woman it was OK for her to feel that way. "We also talked about forming new habits and getting to know her community resources," he says. "I then gave her my card and thanked her for coming."

What happened next, Dr. Wong says, exemplifies why he wanted to participate in the event to begin with. "Others came up to offer her a hug," he says. "It was heartwarming to see people come together like that. If we're going to make meaningful improvements to the health of our communities, social cohesion and engagement is crucially important." Those words ring true in any language.

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Tags: Community, Dr. Cesar Gonzalez, Dr. Hailon Wong, Employee Stories, Family Medicine, Mayo Family Clinic in Kasson

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