Dorothy Pan Balances Work and the Y

“In fields where you can’t save everyone, you are driven to do research to find out more,” says Dorothy Pan.

Dorothy plans to help and heal as many people as possible, so she is doubling her efforts as a student in the prestigious USC-Caltech MD/PhD program. She has now completed her PhD and has returned to LAC+USC medical center for her final years of medical school.

Her path is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. On a Career Day when Dorothy was in elementary school, her classmate’s father showed students a video of a coronary angiogram. The rest of the students said the procedure looked “so gross,” but Dorothy was engrossed.

Since that day, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor,” she says. For her, the trail to USC and Caltech included chemistry studies at Stanford, volunteer work in free health clinics, and the experience of working with Stanford professors who were MD/PhDs.

Her trail to the Caltech Y included additional twists and turns. As a child, Dorothy visited national parks with her family and had the chance to take her first backpacking trip as a Stanford student. A different opportunity arose after Dorothy took step one of her national medical board exams. She had a spare month before starting her research at Caltech, so she volunteered at a camp designed for children who have insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. At the mountain camp in Southern California, the children receive help managing blood-sugar from medical volunteers while engaged in summer camp activities like hiking. In the process, the campers learn that “diabetes doesn’t limit them.”

From this experience, Dorothy learned how helpful outdoor challenges can be, and she decided to check out Caltech Y hikes when she returned from the camp to settle in Pasadena.

After participating in a couple of Y hikes, she heard from activities director Greg Fletcher that more leaders were needed. So she became one.“I like to plan and be in charge of things,” she says. “I’m going to be an MD, so I’ll be in charge of a healthcare team.”

Dorothy has found that a lot of students have no hiking or backpacking experience. She is able to help with this and more. Dorothy earned the Wilderness Medical Institute’s wilderness first aid certification, a program that the Caltech Alpine Club hosted to prepare students for outdoor hardships. She can’t treat sick hikers as a medical doctor yet, but she and Rebecca Rojanski (a UCLA-Caltech MD/PhD student) proved to be exceptionally qualified to tape ankles and help with altitude sickness as they led their students on hikes. Now that they’ve both received their PhDs and immersed themselves in clinical rotations, it has become a big challenge to make time for hiking.





“There’s always work, and there will always be more work,” says Dorothy. To maintain balance throughout college, she gave up playing the violin to spend more time playing the flute. She enjoys sharing her talents through both community service and formal concerts: in college she taught flute to underserved middle school students as a volunteer she returned from the camp to settle in Pasadena.

After participating in a couple of Y hikes, she heard from activities director Greg Fletcher that more leaders were needed. So she became one.“I like to plan and be in charge of things,” she says. “I’m going to be an MD, so I’ll be in charge of a healthcare team.”

Dorothy has found that a lot of students have no hiking or backpacking experience. She is able to help with this and more. Dorothy earned the Wilderness Medical Institute’s wilderness first aid certification, a program that the Caltech Alpine Club hosted to prepare students for outdoor hardships. She can’t treat sick hikers as a medical doctor yet, but she and Rebecca Rojanski (a UCLA-Caltech MD/PhD student) proved to be exceptionally qualified to tape ankles and help with altitude sickness as they led their students on hikes. Now that they’ve both received their PhDs and immersed themselves in clinical rotations, it has become a big challenge to make time for hiking.

“There’s always work, and there will always be more work,” says Dorothy. To maintain balance throughout college, she gave up playing the violin to spend more time playing the flute. She enjoys sharing her talents through both community service and formal concerts: in college she taught flute to underserved middle school students as a volunteer while performing with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, and now continues to soothe patients in hospitals with their favorite songs while serving as principal flutist of the Caltech Symphony Orchestra.

Dorothy also volunteers at a clinic on Skid Row and is impressed by USC’s commitment to health care for underserved patients. As a former resident advisor at Caltech, she has helped roommates get along, and she led the Chemistry department’s first programming board. If she had more time, she would tutor with the Caltech Y’s Rise Program, cook meals at Union Station, improve trails, and lead more hikes. “It always feels good to give back to the community,” she says.

As a Y leader, Dorothy led multi-day trips as far away as the Grand Canyon, sometimes needing to tend to sick hikers. More locally, she gave “Adventure 101” talks about hikes in the area with Jeremy Sandler, a grad student who was featured in last year’s Y annual report. In talks, she and Jeremy cited studies showing that “spending time outdoors in nature makes people more creative, and green spaces and parks lower stress levels.” In addition, on Y hikes,
“you meet people, which can help students feel less isolated.” Hikes also allow undergraduate students to talk with grad students and learn about career paths, such as becoming a physician-scientist.

“Y hikes are great for work-life balance,” Dorothy concludes.

Story Credit: “Caltech Y 2015-16 Centennial Annual Report”

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