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Lehoang ’10 practices compassion and healing

Jennifer Lehoang ’10

When Jennifer Lehoang ’10 watched her father perform a surgery, the then-high school student knew that she too would wear the latex gloves and wield a scalpel one day.

“After watching as he cut someone open I thought, ‘I could do that.’ It looked like fun, as if he was putting together a puzzle,” she says, several years later.

When the Los Angeles native considered colleges, she sought a school with an accelerated medical program, like one offered at Lehigh University in conjunction with Drexel University’s College of Medicine.

“I knew what I wanted,” says the pre-medicine major.

“People don’t think of Lehigh as a pre-med school, but we’ve had quite a number who have graduated and gone onto med school,” says Donna Kosteva, the assistant director of pre-professional advising in Career Services.

Kosteva estimates that 400 Lehigh alumni have entered medical schools with approximately 40 Lehigh undergraduates and alumni applying each year. Of these, over 90 percent are accepted.

“Graduate schools recognized the quality of a Lehigh education, and they know historically Lehigh students in medical school and law school do very well,” says Kosteva.

“Lehigh students are well prepared for medical school,” says Majed Dergham, senior assistant director in admissions.

Lehoang will receive a liberal arts education during her three years at Lehigh. She will enter Drexel’s College of Medicine for her fourth year, which will double as her first year in medical school and the final year of her undergraduate degree.

Not only will Lehoang graduate from medical school after only seven years of study, but also as an undergraduate she has the security of knowing she has already been accepted into medical school.

High school students applying for the accelerated medical program are admitted into both Lehigh University and the Drexel University College of Medicine. The program is selective. Of the 248 applicants, the schools accepted 61 students who showed “motivation for a medical career, maturity and leadership,” says Kosteva.

In high school, Lehoang volunteered and worked in a lab at her father’s hospital at the University of Southern California.

Practicing compassion

Like many students in Lehigh’s accelerated medical program, Lehoang has the opportunity to explore the social sciences as well as physics and biology. In a course titled “Medicine and Society,” Lehoang learned from Judith Lasker, professor of sociology and anthropology, about the societal effects of health care systems, HMOs and patient-physician relations.

“It opened my eyes to issues I’ll have to deal with as part of the next generation of doctors,” Lehoang says.

Some of these issues were already apparent to Lehoang, because she and her family experienced them personally. One of a set of triplets, Lehoang and her siblings were born three months premature, each weighing only two pounds. Lehoang and her sister were healthy, but their brother’s lungs were undeveloped. He received frequent treatments for the first two years of his life. A doctor overestimated the amount of medicine he needed, and her brother suffered a stroke. Today, he lives at home with a nurse.

“He’s learning to walk and has invented his own sign language,” Lehoang says.

Lehoang’s brother traveled with her and her family during their first visit to Vietnam, the country where both her parents were born. In the Southeast Asian country, they distributed medical supplies and basic hygiene products to three orphanages.

Each family contributed as they could. Her father gave lectures on modern medical techniques to local doctors, while she and her siblings played with the children.

“All the kids were happy to see us—happier than kids here,” she says.

Since then, Lehoang has returned to the Communist country twice, once in middle school and once in high school. She hopes to go again during spring break this year. Her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, is raising money for a charitable organization her father is creating in Vietnam.

Between studying for organic chemistry, Lehoang gives campus tours with other members of ASA (Association of Student Alumni) to prospective students and volunteers within the Bethlehem community. She and her sorority sisters occasionally challenge the residents of a nearby retirement community in bingo. This summer, she plans to volunteer at the University of Southern California’s hospital.

Halfway through her career at Lehigh, Lehoang is already eager for her next step in life.

“I’m going to miss Lehigh, but I’m excited for what’s coming. I feel like I’ll be ready by then,” she says.

--Becky Straw

Posted on Thursday, January 17, 2008

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