The Masked Asian Psychiatrist

My story “The Masked Asian Psychiatrist” was published in Pulse last week! I started writing it several months ago when I was on my inpatient psychiatry rotation in the last third of my PGY-1/intern year. By the end of the spring, much had already been written about the pandemic’s effect on mental health, and there were some incisive pieces reflecting on the pandemic’s effect on Asian healthcare workers (see this piece by Dr. Sojung Yi). I hadn’t seen much written, if anything, about the particular experience of Asian mental health workers, and that motivated me to write my story.  The process of doing so and then editing it with input from friends and colleagues, and then with Pulse’s editor, was both therapeutic and stimulating for me.  Seeing the story out in the world, and subsequently with an intriguing and ultimately heartening series of reader comments (on the story page), has been a thrill.

I highly encourage anyone interested in narrative medicine and perspectives from healthcare providers and participants, both poetry and prose, to subscribe to Pulse (both free and donation-based subscriptions are available) and help them continue editing and publishing.

For me, a large part of becoming an antiracist physician and an ally means reading and learning from the lived experiences and wisdom of BIPOC colleagues, friends, writers, and more.  It also means learning to talk about how my own cultural identity—Chinese-American, immigrant, Northern California college town-raised, upper middle-class-raised, non-white, and non-Black, as well as cisgender, heterosexual, and able-bodied—and the privileges and complexities therein, have shaped my life and affect my work with patients.  This Pulse story was the first time in my professional/adult life that I’ve “spoken” publicly about this.  There is so much more that I wasn’t able to cover this time, but am still unpacking and writing about, and there is much more reflection and self-critique ahead.  

I am grateful to all who have encouraged and supported me in venturing into this new space.

PGY-2 so far

Part of my houseplant collection, with the most recent additions being the feathery fern and the large dracaena on the right side.

First day on the Consultation-Liaison (“C/L” or “Consult” for short) service last week: a surprisingly manageable easing-in for me and my co-resident, with our chief resident and multiple attending physicians (i.e. our supervising physicians, “attendings” for short) orienting us to the service.  Started getting familiar with the long patient list.  Spent significant time getting lost in this hospital, where I’ve only worked for a week in the past.

Second day: Long and overwhelming. This was in part because I was still getting physically lost and didn’t know my patients well yet, but also because I hadn’t yet learned to titrate the number of follow-ups seen in the morning before getting some of their corresponding progress notes done (this is key so I’m not super behind come mid-afternoon).

Thanks to the July 4 holiday I had some time to recover before my third day, a weekend call shift, during which I was covering the Consult pager (albeit at the very familiar hospital where I worked the prior four months), as well as supporting new interns who were getting used to covering the inpatient psychiatry pager.  It was a packed day but ultimately felt manageable, and made me appreciate the growth that happens over the course of one year of residency.  Knowing I needed to periodically check in with an intern and review some how-tos with them actually helped me stay focused on my tasks and try to be as efficient as possible.  As a bonus, it was wonderful to watch the interns give a clear and organized sign-out to each other at 8:00pm.

4th through 8th days: Varying degrees of “busy” ranging from comfortably busy to “we just got six new consults in two hours, yikes!!” but ultimately doable with the support of our attendings, senior residents, fourth-year medical student, and nurse practitioner.  We were getting lost far less frequently, and managed to eat lunch more days than not.  As the cognitive load of finding the right room numbers and simply keeping track of my to-dos lessened just a tiny bit, I found myself again able to recognize some moments of satisfaction and even joy in the work. My co-resident and I are alternating weeks of holding the pager, and he did a great job this past week.  It is also heartening that when one of our consult patients gets admitted to inpatient psychiatry, one of our residency classmates often becomes the primary physician.

Looking ahead at the coming weeks, in addition to my work-related goals and psychiatry learning goals, my secondary goals include:

  • staying hydrated as much as possible
  • remembering to pack a snack every day
  • aiming for 10+ minutes of strength- or mobility-targeted exercise most days, in addition to my 12-min daily walking commutes
  • continue to keep my houseplants alive
  • continuing with music and non-psychiatry reading, even if sporadic.

Currently reading/listening:

  • Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns”: I started this while on vacation three weeks ago and it is such a gorgeously written and overall epic book. It also feels particularly timely and thought-provoking now.
  • Ibram Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist”: Almost finished listening to the audiobook (read by the author), though I expect to return to it later as well. Part of my self-assigned educational curriculum as it is for many others.
  • Anna Solomon’s “The Book of V”: audiobook, I’m 30% of the way into it, but I think it might be better read in a couple longer sittings instead of listening in short spurts.
  • Kevin Kwan’s “Sex and Vanity”: fluffy fun, though unsurprisingly, not as good as the “Crazy Rich Asian” series.