Inside the mind of an MD, and... our youngest Howell Board Member: can you see the brain cells firing?


Jessica Zhang is a newly minted MD serving on our Board of Directors. It is amazing how many things she is able to do for the Howell Foundation, all while pursuing her residency in Emergency Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital/UCSF.

The philosophy of life of this young doctor is, quite frankly, contagious.  Taking a preventive approach on the road to personalized medicine is, perhaps, the most important factor in achieving health.  But that is just my opinion!  Read the wise words of Dr. Zhang, who no doubt will become one of THE best doctors!

"My hope is that my future career is filled with sudden and unpredictable accidents – this sounds terrible, but hear me out.

There are two ways to approach medicine.  The first is to react to a problem that already exists; the second is to prevent the problem from occurring. Our health care system approaches health from the first perspective. With increasingly rare exception, health is only addressed after you are already sick. On the other hand, things like seat belt laws approach medicine from a place of prevention. The logic being, that if you prevent a problem in the first place, it can prevent cost, suffering, disability, and death.

I imagine most people think my day (or night) as an emergency room doctor consists of sudden illnesses and unspeakable accidents. Things like broken bones, infections, food poisoning, fevers, dog bites, or gunshot wounds. But the majority of what I see is preventable illness. Or, more accurately, the complications of preventable illness. Almost every shift I have patients with kidney failure from diabetes, lung disease from smoking, and heart disease from decades of high blood pressure and excess cholesterol.  In all, traumatic accidents are probably no more than 10% of my career as an emergency room doc.

The five things I wish for my patient are to: eat a healthy diet, exercise, never smoke, try to lose weight and drink five drinks a week. And yes, you read that right.  Those five alcoholic drinks, if spread over the course of a week, are actually beneficial to your health. Binge drinking is not allowed, but that nightly glass of red wine appears to be helping you.

Lets look at some facts - studies that followed hundreds of thousands of people for decades showed that if you ascribe to all five things mentioned above, your risk of heart disease plummets by 80%.  Heart disease includes things like heart attacks, heart failure, high blood pressure, and heart beat irregularities.  If you think that’s good, then consider the fact that those same five things reduce your risk of diabetes by 90%, your risk of dementia (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s) by 60% and your risk of cancer by 35%.

There is no doubt that it takes effortful intention to do these five things, but it’s a pretty incredible trade off.  The more I understand about the human body, the more I realize the crucial importance of maintaining health and wellness.  As a physician, I hope to see that medicine shifts toward maintaining health and wellness thereby reducing the need of a reactive approach.

My day-to-day job is to treat devastating complications of preventable illness (and the rare traumatic accident).  But my passion projects all focus on trying to stop them from happening at all. The Doris Howell Foundation seeks to educate women about how to achieve wellness for themselves and for their families. By way of direct education or research, it seeks to change our entire approach to healthcare.  I get to be part of that as a board member.  I continue to hope that my future career is filled with sudden and unpredictable events because all of the preventable illness has disappeared.

 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' – proverb by Benjamin Franklin"

With Healthful Wishes

Jessica Zhang, MD
Emergency Medicine Resident at the University of California, San Francisco and Zuckerburg San Francisco General Hospital

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