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What I Wish To Change About My Training Experience

By Jingheng Wu, MD, PhD

Born in mainland China, I obtained my medical education at the top medical school in China and became a staff Hand Surgeon at Beijing Jishuitan Hospital, the leading orthopedic hospital in the country. I was satisfied with my career path until I heard a lecture given by Dr. Yulong Sun, an expert in Biomechanical Engineering and Regenerative Orthopedics from the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Sun’s research was fascinating, and at that moment I realized that my training was not completed, that there were cutting-edge techniques I did not know, and that there were hospitals with world-renowned surgeons I had not visited. These became my new dreams and goals, which I was determined to pursue regardless of the challenges. Therefore, I started a one-year research fellowship in the Biomechanics Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, just six months after Dr. Sun’s lecture. (Fig.1) That was my first training abroad, but I did not know that it was just the beginning of an exciting journey full of unique opportunities to train with many highly respected hand surgeons worldwide.

Figure 1: Members of the Biomechanics Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic, 2015

My medical training and clinical research experience did not fully prepare me to perform the basic mechanical studies in a biomechanics research lab, where we were evaluating and trying to improve the revitalization of flexor tendon allografts transplanted with bone marrow stem cells using an ex vivo model. In the first few months, new laboratory techniques and research concepts were overwhelming and made me wonder why I was there. However, when I realized that everything has a beginning and nothing is impossible, I quickly converted myself into a proactive learner by learning from lab technicians, students, colleagues from other labs, and anyone who could teach me how to perform experiments like PCR and how to operate complex instruments like confocal microscopes. By the end of the third quarter of my one-year fellowship, I already published a manuscript on my first project and was in the middle of my second project.

Despite how hard I was working on my research, I knew my passion was always in the clinic. Therefore, I actively sought opportunities to learn from the local hand surgeons and others in the US by attending case conference every Friday morning at the Mayo Clinic Hand Division. I also spent all my savings and vacations on attending conferences, such as ASSH, AAHS, ORS, and training courses on wrist and microsurgery.

Upon completion of my research training at Mayo with two first-authored publications, I returned to China to resume my busy clinical duties for the following three years while completing my PhD thesis. I also had several short-term opportunities as a visiting scholar at Nagoya University in Japan and the University of Utah. Last year, I was honored to be selected by the ASSH International Traveling Fellow Program and visited several top US hand clinics. (Fig.2) What I learned from every place and every mentor I was fortunate to meet greatly broadened my perspectives and improved my clinical practice. For example, I was able to observe and learn cutting-edge genomic techniques at the University of Utah and immediately applied those techniques at my hospital in Beijing for treating congenital hand malformations. Detecting mutations in the PIK3CA gene improved our ability to manage patients and assess the risks of recurrence and future reproductivity.

Figure 2: Visiting University of Michigan as an ASSH International Travelling Fellow, 2017

A few weeks ago, I started a fellowship in the Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation Research Lab at Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Department of Johns Hopkins, working with Drs. W. P. Andrew Lee and Gerald Brandacher. (Fig.3) I am on a new journey, exploring ways to prevent transplantation rejection and to reduce the number of immunosuppressive medications patients have to take. I have no doubt this new area of knowledge will complement my experiences in microsurgery for upper extremity trauma, and I am expecting another productive training year that will be full of adventures in both research and clinic.

Figure 3: With two mentors: Drs. W. P. Andrew Lee and Gerald Brandacher, 2018

Looking back at my training journey, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had those opportunities and to have met those great mentors. Without each of them, I could not be where I am today, although I still have a long way to go. Being persistent and proactive in seeking these opportunities, rather than isolating myself at my clinic or research bench, has been critical to my growth. However, if I am asked what I wish to change about my training experience, I would suggest a more supportive and informative environment for trainees at different levels. Career forums at annual meetings of organizations such as ASSH could inform all young trainees of the opportunities I had to find on my own so that they can pursue those goals earlier and more efficiently. In addition, I wish there were a mechanism to connect those wonderful mentors out there with “hungry” mentees. This can be done at the institution level or by professional societies like ASSH. When I was invited to speak on my training experiences for the Young Leaders’ Symposiums at the Japanese Society for Surgery of the Hand (JSSH) 2017 annual meeting, I did not hesitate to share my challenges and lessons gained during my training journey. I was touched to see that the room was packed with hundreds of young trainees eager to hear others’ experiences and to seek role models I wish I had earlier in my training.

Each of us is unique in the world, and our experiences continue to shape who we are as individuals. Pulling all the wisdom, challenges, lessons, and even mistakes from each of us gained during our journey at a forum like the newly created ASSH Perspectives Blog represents an important step forward for us to form a network in order to support each other better. I appreciate this wonderful opportunity to share my stories and welcome any comments, questions, or further discussion. Please feel free to contact me at

Comment (1)
Yan Ma
October 11, 2018 11:09 pm

pride of China


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