Life in the Front Line: Dr. Denise Zhang

Studying medicine is no easy feat. As an outgoing person who loves to get her fair share of sunshine and sea breeze, Dr. Denise Zhang would always look forward to her stress-relieving hiking adventures (even if it involves getting her knees scraped!) She even started her very own small running club while she was studying Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at Taylor’s University.

So what’s it like being a doctor during a pandemic when your way of relieving stress is taken away from you? Hear the story of our 2017 Taylor’s School of Medicine alumni as a frontliner during the pandemic.

Q: What inspired you to study medicine?

A: I used to fall sick a lot when I was younger. I frequently visited the family’s GP clinic. Even the doctor became a family friend from all the visits! Also, I remember my mom buying me a doctor’s playset so you can say that I was inspired to pursue medicine ever since young.

Currently, I’m not too sure what I want to specialise in but I’m thinking about going into the surgical department.


Q: Which hospital are you currently placed at and what was it like on your first day of work?

A: I’m currently placed in Penang General Hospital in Georgetown. I remember being very enthusiastic. I met a number of old friends here too! But, fast forward to today, I still feel that I’m not very well equipped.


Q: How did your working hours and experience change with the MCO and COVID-19?

A: The MCO has taken away my only way of de-stressing. Like most working people, healthcare workers have normal working hours, from 8am to 5pm. But with all our ward rounds, operating theatre time, clinics, and the possibility of patients collapsing, it results with us going to work way earlier and never going home on time. Plus, on-calls. Hah! 

Currently, I'm in the Surgical Department. While I do deal with medical stuff, it’s not as specific while I’m on COVID duty. Every department will have to take turns sending a few people to cover the COVID duty. The team is led by the medical infectious disease team and we’re all there to help. The way things are done may be slightly different from how I manage my patients in the ward. COVID shifts are usually 12-hour shifts and we work 4 days while resting for the other 3 days. 

My first COVID-19 shift!

Q: What’s the scariest or toughest part of being in the COVID-19 team?

A: It isn't as tough as everyone thinks it is. For me, the scariest part is when we have to attend to suspected or confirmed cases. Before going, we always double, or even triple, check if we donned (a way of  safely wearing) the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) properly, and quadruple, or quintuple, check our doffing (a way of  safely removing the suit)

Doffing is the scariest! We’re so afraid that the slightest movement may flick the virus all over which may land on us.


Q: How does it feel treating COVID-19 patients? What are the best and worst moments for your COVID-19 cases?

A: I didn’t really ‘treat’ the patients. For most cases, I was assigned to just monitor them. Meeting new friends from other departments was definitely one of the better moments for me! The worst moment is when I have to shower with cold water (someone seriously needs to do something about that!)

My colleague and I discharging the last two patients of COVID-19 positive patients in Penang.

Q: How has your education prepared you with handling the current situation?

A: We wouldn’t have known what is a pandemic if it wasn't for public health classes. We wouldn’t have known how droplets are transmitted if it wasn't for those pathophysiology classes that we were forced to sit through. And probably we wouldn’t have known viral transmission will affect us if it wasn't because of the microbiology classes.

It's like Additional Maths, we may think that it will not help us in life, but it somehow does (though I'm still trying to figure out how Add Maths helps me)... You get what I mean.


Q: Any words for aspiring doctors?

A: It’s true when people say being a doctor is tough! You better make sure you’re up for the game because it really isn’t that easy. You really need to be tough or, at least, toughen up.


Q: If you could tell the community something, what would it be?

A: We aren't that great. If everyone behaves and stays home, our work will be so much easier.

My married friends can't even go back to meet their babies, toddlers, and loved ones. It's a two-way thing, we are all sacrificing. It's tough, I know. I also want to go dating but I cannot (I’m still single by the way!)

But have hope! Our lives will be normal soon, let's all have faith.

My surgical colleagues and me ready for our instagram shot!

Want to know more about studying medicine? Find out more about Taylor's School of Medicine here.