Fox News: Words of Wellness: “In Stitches”

  • Posted on: Feb 20 2012
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Growing up, Dr. Anthony Youn was dealt an interesting hand: a tiger parent,  an abnormally large jaw, and many, many dateless Friday nights.  He details  these situations and many more in his book In  Stitches, a memoir which follows his humorous—and often touching—path  from awkward student to successful plastic surgeon.

“I set out to write the definitive book about growing up Asian American,  going through medical school—all true, unadulterated, unfiltered, behind the  scenes, warts and all—and becoming a doctor,” Youn explained. “I wanted my book  to reveal the real life of a doctor-to-be.  Real life can be laugh-out-loud  funny, shocking, heart-breaking, and heart-warming.”

Youn took the time to speak with us about the  life lessons he faced during medical school, and what you can learn from them  too.

Q: “Tiger parenting” garnered a lot of media attention last year and a lot  of controversy. Would you describe your father as a tiger parent – and how would  you say your upbringing influenced your life and career path?

A: My dad is a Tiger Father.  He grew up on a small rice farm in rural  Korea.  Incredibly, like many first generation Asian immigrants, he was  able to live the American dream and become a successful physician.   Unfortunately, all he knew were two extremes: being dirt poor in Korea and  being a wealthy doctor in America.  Nothing in between.  That’s why  the day I was born he decided I would be a doctor, too.  He feared that if  I became anything else I would end up living in the kind of poverty he’d worked  so hard to escape.

As the dutiful son, I followed my Tiger Father’s instructions and became a  doctor.  As time passed, I began to see my dad in a completely different  way.  He went from being the tyrannical, controlling Tiger Father to a  person whom I appreciated and respected, faults and all.  I even began to  find humor in how he raised me.  Besides, how could anyone not see humor in  a father who says, “You want to be a pediatrician?  Little people, little  dollah!  Spend all day giving suckers to little babies!”  If I didn’t  laugh, I would have cried.

Q: Being an outsider is an ongoing theme in your book, but ultimately, it  didn’t seem to hold you back. What is your advice to others who are going  through these feelings? How did you move past these feelings yourself?

A: Most of us have moments in our lives where we feel like an outsider, an  outcast.  For some, these feelings last a week or a month.  For me,  these feelings lasted twenty-two years!  During high school I was  toothpick-thin, with a terrible haircut, Coke-bottle glasses, braces, and  Hannibal Lecter-like headgear.  In college I was a big loser.  I  couldn’t find a single girl who wanted to date me for the entire four years!

My advice to anyone who is currently feeling left out, lonely, or different  from everyone else is to PERSEVERE.  Life changes, and almost always for  the better.  At one point, Steve  Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Mark  Zuckerberg and even Lady  Gaga have felt like outsiders.  It’s amazing how life can change as  long as you follow your passion, work hard, and persevere.  My hope is that  anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will identify with and be inspired by In Stitches.

Q: There was a lot of description of your time in medical school in the  book, but an equal amount of time was spent on detailing your social struggles – particularly with girls. Why did you feel it was important to include this  aspect of your life?

A: Physicians like to be put on pedestals.  An honest physician will  admit that we don’t go into medicine for the sole purpose of helping people.   If that was the case, then we’d be social workers, special ed teachers,  and nurses.  Like most doctors, I entered the field of medicine for many  reasons: to earn a good living, to make my parents proud, to help people, and to  elevate my standing in life so a decent woman just might be interested in me.

A big part of my personal growth has involved my lack of a love life.   This all changed once I went to medical school and my med school colleagues mentored me in how to date  successfully.  They taught me three rules, as described in more detail in In Stitches: (1) All single guys should read Cosmo religiously.  (2)  Never talk about your mother on a date or at the bar.  (3) Buy a lighter – you’ll have to figure this one out from the book!

Q: You mentioned a few patients/cases that stuck with you in the book – which case do you feel has impacted you the most? Why?

A: The first life I “saved” as a medical student really had nothing to do  with medical knowledge at all.  Frank was a junk dealer who was diagnosed  with critical coronary artery disease.  If he didn’t consent to open-heart  surgery he was going to die, and die soon.  He smelled like old cheese, had  the personality of a pissed-off gorilla, and distrusted the medical system so  much he refused to sign the consent.  He was estranged from his family, so  they weren’t available to help.

My intern assigned me to talk with him about the surgery, in hopes of saving  his life.  After being cursed at and told to leave him alone, I tried one  last thing.  I sat with him and told him about how my mother’s life was  saved with the same surgery that could save his.  He consented to the  surgery and even reconciled with his family because of it.   This  taught me the lesson, stated by Hippocrates many years ago: “It is more  important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of  disease a person has.”

I always try to keep that lesson in mind when treating my patients today.

Q: Any more books planned for the future?

A: I would love to write a follow-up to In Stitches.  I’m humbled  and flattered by the overwhelmingly positive response it’s received from critics  and readers alike.  My hope is that people consider In Stitches‘required reading’ for anyone who wants to be a doctor or know what their doctor  thinks.  The next one will have big shoes to fill!
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