Honoring Excellence: Q and A with Han Yu Stephanie Liou, MD

2022 David C. Leach Awardee Han Yu Stephanie Liou, MD

This interview is one in a series of interviews with recipients of the 2022 ACGME Awards. The awardees join an outstanding group of previous honorees whose work and contributions to graduate medical education (GME) represent the best in the field. They were honored at the ACGME Annual Educational Conference March 30-April 1, 2022.

2022 David C. Leach Awardee Han Yu Stephanie Liou, MD is a primary care pediatrician at Alivio Medical Center – a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Chicago. Dr. Liou recently completed a general pediatrics residency at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital.

ACGME: Why did you want to become a physician? 

Dr. Liou: I was strongly influenced by my experiences as a first-generation American growing up in a low-income, single parent family. I grew up helping to interpret for my mom, trying to apply for financial assistance programs to pay for her medications, and trying to understand why physicians didn't seem to understand why she hadn't been able to pay for all of her medications. In college, I pivoted from journalism to medicine because I realized that I could combine my love for interviewing people and hearing their stories with a path to help fight for health equity and give all patients—regardless of ability to pay, language preference, or any other demographic factor—quality and respectful care.

ACGME: What, so far, has been the most rewarding part of your residency/fellowship? 

Liou: Without a doubt, the relationships that I built were the Number 1 thing I gained in residency. I got to build relationships with so many fantastic families in my continuity clinic, and I still remember crying when one of the patients I had cared for since he was a newborn came in for his 30-month visit and was not just walking and talking, but able to sit and read a book with me. And of course, I can't forget the brilliant, phenomenal co-residents (shoutout #SpicyMangos) who carried me through 30-hour shifts and 80-hour weeks, and all the incredible mentors, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, medical students, LUCENT squad, and other members of the health care team that I was fortunate to work with at Comer.

ACGME: What has been the most challenging?

Liou: I think that the most challenging thing about medicine in general for me (especially as I have only practiced in underserved communities by choice) is just seeing the incredible gaps and inequities in our health care system and society as a whole. So many people are working hard to patch together solutions through grants, hard work, and creativity, but it's just so frustrating to feel that we could be doing so much more for our patients if they had access to better housing, transportation, walkable streets, and all the other social determinants of health that seek to actively undermine every element of preventive care that pediatricians love. As well, I think there is still a lot of traditional hierarchy and hazing that happens in medicine, because the education process is so grueling and we so often have to deal with loss, tragedy, and frustration (not to mention a global pandemic...) that there is absolutely compassion fatigue which can lead to the perpetuation of toxic power structures and stereotypes. While I feel so fortunate to have trained with so many supportive, empathetic, and kind faculty members, I also feel grateful to no longer have to work with those who were the opposite!

ACGME: What innovation/improvement did you implement in your program? (We have it on the nomination form, but we’d like to explain in your own words.)

Liou: I was fortunate to have support from many people to start an initiative known as Project PEACHES - Pediatricians Engaging Adolescents for Contraception, Health Education, and Safe sex. We have been working together with a phenomenal nonprofit group, the Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. Foundation, to bring together pediatric medical students, residents, and fellows and adolescent girls on the South Side of Chicago to improve adolescent reproductive health access. Physicians-in-training get to receive additional training and experience to provide high-quality, evidence-based, nonjudgmental reproductive health care to adolescents. Our teen participants receive reproductive health education that is accurate and delivered to them in comfortable community settings (as well as online) and also enjoy free and easily accessible supplies including condoms, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, and more. Most importantly, frequent interactions in the community and within the academic setting (including bidirectional education sessions where the teens teach the docs) can hopefully help bridge that gap in understanding and comfort that exists between these two groups, thereby building a new generation of compassionate pediatricians and empowered young women!

For more info or to help support our efforts, check out this recent feature [scroll to Part 2 to view video].

ACGME: What does it mean to you to receive this award?

Liou: Honestly, I am only a small part of the incredible team that has made Project PEACHES possible. I think of this award as a tribute to all the people who are the heart and soul of this effort, especially Chez Smith, founder and director of the Gyrls in the H.O.O.D. Foundation, who is truly one of my personal heroes. I would also like to thank Drs. Gregg Montalto, Rebekah Fenton, Anna Volerman-Beaser, Icy Cade-Bell, Jen Rusiecki, Lisa McQueen, Rochelle Naylor, Bako Orionzi, Nina Gummadi, and every single Comer resident and medical student who has participated in our events! And a special shout-out to my amazing husband Theo Lim, who once came home to a giant shipment of 2,000 condoms and his only question was, "Do you need help delivering these somewhere?" as well as the Comer Family Foundation, whose generous grant support has been crucial to our work so far.

ACGME: What advice would you give to other residents/fellows who are looking to either replicate your improvement or implement an original idea of their own in their own program?

Liou: Trying to start anything is always hard, and it will never go the way you planned! So above all, try to make sure that what you are doing is going to help you and your peers be better doctors and help the patients in your community in a way that meets their needs, rather than your own. It felt ambitious and at times insane to start something that was so thoroughly grounded in meeting community needs rather than traditional research. But it has been so, so worth it.

ACGME: Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven’t already asked about?

Liou: I have to put in a little plug for one of my new endeavors, a podcast called 2BrokeDocs! Check us out at @2BrokeDocs on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Spotify.

Learn more about the ACGME’s David C. Leach Award and nominate a deserving individual for the 2023 Award – nominations are due by April 6, 2022.