When she was a first-year medical student in 2006, Wilma Chan was shadowing a nurse practitioner at a clinic at Tufts Medical Center in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.
A quiet 10-year-old girl came in with her father. She was morbidly obese and already exhibiting symptoms of diabetes and other health problems.
“She was very discouraged because here are three adults lecturing her about how important it is that she has to lose weight,” recalls Chan, A03, M10. “It’s hard for adults to hear that. For a 10-year-old to hear, that is really hard.”
As the father chided his daughter about not exercising and eating the wrong foods, Chan noticed that he wasn’t talking about other things in her life that could underpin her weight problem.
“I’m thinking, ‘She probably has no idea how to do any of those things,’ ” says Chan. “No one is saying, ‘What else is going on? Who are your peers at school? What are people saying to you? How do you feel about other kids and the way they act toward you?’ ”
The same day, a 14-year-old girl came to the clinic, the Asian Pediatric and Adolescent Clinic at the Floating Hospital for Children. She was complaining that she didn’t like the way her body looked. “I was really surprised. She looked absolutely fine,” says Chan, who is finishing up her first year of her residency in emergency medicine at the University of Chicago. “Part of me was thinking, ‘Oh God, I wish I could bring you to Starbucks and sit you down and keep talking to you,’ ” she recalls.
What both girls could have benefited from, Chan realized, was a support program in which the girls could be matched with students like herself to mentor them through the challenges of adolescence. Thus, the Girls Values Program was born.
Cycle of Mentorship
Of the 10 girls in the program that first year, says Chan, none of them made the cut to gain entrance to Boston’s prestigious exam schools. The next year, as seventh graders, three-quarters of them were accepted to exam schools.
“Just seeing the level of confidence they had was very impressive and gratifying,” recalls Chan.
After three years, Chan handed the reins of the program to Hyejo Jun, A09, M13, who as an undergraduate at Tufts had been involved with the public health awareness groups Prevention, Awareness and