PEOPLE: John Monash Scholar – Xin Zhang

Can you tell our readers what a normal day looks like for Xin Zhang? 

A normal weekday starts with seeing patients in the clinic in the morning. As a Neurology doctor, I care for people who are being investigated or treated for dementia or epilepsy. It is always a privilege to be able to hear the personal stories of patients and to look for opportunities to provide individualized, holistic healthcare. I am constantly blown away by the uniqueness of each patient, and the insights they have to share. So seeing patients is an enjoyable and enlightening process for me. 

I regularly meet colleagues from a variety of disciplines, to troubleshoot clinical problems and improve patient care. We inspire and motivate each other. During the coronavirus pandemic, our team meetings have helped us adapt to the changing hospital environment and community-wide restrictions, so that we can continue to support our patients. The rest of the afternoon quickly fills up with teaching medical students, attending and presenting at educational meetings.

In the evening, I work on research projects. Sometimes I have to be “on-call”, which means that I would go back into hospital if a patient arrives at the Emergency Department with a possible stroke. Although my days are busy, I can safely say that they are never dull!  

I try to end each day with a relaxing activity, such as catching up with family and friends, going for a walk, painting, or reading. 

How important is diversity to you and in the work that you do?

Diversity and inclusion are key to my work. Firstly, my patients come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds; from urban centres to rural communities; from people who do not speak English at all to University academics. Secondly, my colleagues come from a range of professions, levels of experience, and social backgrounds. I think it is important for workplace diversity to reflect the people we serve. I have found that a personal experience of being different can enrich empathy when interacting with patients. I am proud that my workplace recognises the value of diversity and actively seeks to help people reach their potential, regardless of their background. Many of my colleagues are clinician-researchers in disorders that affect the brain. Such a complex and evolving field will always benefit from the free flow of ideas and healthy debate, which is not inhibited by rank or bias. 

Have you ever faced challenges in your professional career from others because of your identity and if so, how were you able to overcome that?

I do face challenges because of my background as an Australian-Chinese woman. When I first immigrated to Australia with my parents at 8 years old, I experienced overt racism at school. My situation has improved a lot since. However, this early experience of racism had a lasting impact in generating self-doubt. I have to consciously overcome self-doubt on a daily basis, especially in the professional setting. With the support of people around me, I have taken a proactive approach and embraced my background. That is why I hold on to my Chinese first name, even though it is difficult for some people to pronounce. I have pursued visible roles: I taught astronomy to the general public at Sydney Observatory regularly for ten years, I campaigned for climate action when I was a medical student, and as a doctor, I work with patients from all walks of life. I am buoyed by the idea that my effort not only helps me, but will make things better for the next “Xin” who comes along.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUTH

It is normal to feel afraid. However, never let fear take charge and never succumb to the fear of being different. See if you can turn your uniqueness into strength. We can be surprisingly resourceful and resilient when motivated by our goals, but more so when we strive for something greater than ourselves. Create that opportunity for yourself and create it for others.

Want to follow and support ?

I am on Linkedin at http://www.linkedin.com/in/xin-zhang-58b4981aa/