Samantha Chao ‘14, Anesthesiology Resident

Hello everyone! We apologize for a year-long hiatus on this site but are thrilled to return with an alumni feature about Samantha Chao ‘14 from Des Moines, Iowa and Hong Kong!

Sammy majored in Neuroscience at Pomona College. During her four years as a Sagehen, she was a steady contributor to the PPWT (Pomona-Pitzer Women’s Tennis Team’s) lineup and consistently earned ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Assoiciation) Scholar-Athlete honors. As a first-year, she was named to the 2011 All-SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) Second Team. In her second year, Sammy remained undefeated against Division III singles opponents and was selected to the 2012 All-SCIAC First Team. Over the course of her college tennis career, she earned NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) All-American honors twice for doubles. In her junior year, Sammy reached the quarterfinals at the 2013 NCAA Doubles Championship with Kara Wang ‘13 and was chosen for the 2013 All-SCIAC Second Team. As a senior, she won the Fall ITA Doubles Championship with her partner Lea Lynn Yen ‘16 and was later honored as a member of the 2014 All-SCIAC First Team. The duo capped off Sammy’s senior year by reaching the semifinals of the NCAA Doubles Championship. Upon graduating from Pomona, Sammy served as the Assistant Coach for the Pomona-Pitzer Women’s Tennis Team and helped lead the Sagehens to the No. 7-ranking in the nation.

Sammy has since earned an MD (Doctor of Medicine) from Rush University in Chicago, Illinois. She is currently working as an anesthesiology resident at UCSF (University of California, San Francisco). We were very grateful to hear from another incredible PPWT alumna and especially appreciated Sammy’s advice for Sagehens interested in medicine!

How did you decide to pursue a career in medicine, and specifically in anesthesiology?

Sammy: I always knew that I wanted to go into medicine, but I wanted to take at least one gap year to have some time off and explore other interests. While I was considering my options, Coach Ann Lebedeff asked if I wanted to work as an assistant coach for the team, and I gladly accepted. I learned a lot about coaching from Ann and Assistant Coach Drew Cohn and had a great time working with a very young and talented team. It was also really neat to experience a college tennis season from a coach’s perspective rather than a player’s.

After one year of coaching, I decided that I wanted additional clinical experience before going to medical school, so I became an Emergency Department scribe at Loma Linda University Medical Center. There, I worked alongside Emergency Medicine attendings and residents writing patient notes. Through this experience, I was able to witness firsthand how providers quickly stabilize very sick patients and address common patient problems like chest pain, difficulty breathing, and abdominal pain. I was impressed by all of the providers there (physicians, nurses, techs, and others) who operated like a well-oiled machine to quickly and comprehensively treat a variety of complex patients, ranging from blunt trauma to snakebites. I fell in love with the strong sense of community and pride of working in the emergency department and left for medical school excited by the prospect of potentially becoming an emergency department physician.

I went to medical school at Rush University in Chicago, which is a health professions school (i.e. no undergraduates). Medical school was challenging in many ways. After having been out of school for a couple of years, I was a little rusty when it came to hitting the books. During your pre-clinical years, there’s also so much information to learn in a short period of time. Some people liken it to drinking from a firehose. However, being a student-athlete taught me essential organization and time management skills that enabled me to adapt to the academic rigors of medical school.

During my clinical years, I had a hard time deciding what specialty I wanted to go into. I was partial to emergency medicine because of my experience as a scribe, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my surgery and internal medicine rotations. Because I enjoyed doing procedures and being in the operating room, many people I spoke to also suggested that I consider anesthesia. In the end, I decided to become an anesthesiologist because I enjoy doing short procedures, taking care of different patient populations (adults, children, pregnant women, etc.), and working in the operating room. I was thankfully able to match into a program at UCSF.

How did your time as a student-athlete at Pomona prepare you for a career in medicine?

Sammy: Being a student-athlete teaches you many skills that can be applied to whatever career you choose, including medicine. One of the biggest challenges of being a student-athlete is making time for everything. In addition to going to classes and labs, doing homework, and studying for tests, I also had to go to morning workouts, practices, matches, and rehab sessions. Keeping track of everything was hard at first, but it taught me how to stay organized and manage my time to ensure everything was done on time.

As an athlete, you also learn how to perform in high-stress situations. I remember physically shaking near the ends of matches when the result had huge implications because losing felt a whole lot worse when it resulted in a team loss. Learning to put that aside and focus on the present is particularly important in medicine when you deal with life/death situations. Being an athlete also teaches you resilience. We all have had our share of tough losses, some of which even haunt you years later. However, learning to bounce back is important. A career in medicine is full of hardship, so learning to recover from setbacks is crucial. 

Having grown up in Hong Kong, how did you decide to attend Pomona?

Sammy: My high school college counselor suggested that I apply to Pomona based on my interests and what I was looking for in a school with respect to class size, among other things.

I fell in love with Pomona for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to attend a school where I could compete at a high level and would be supported as I completed pre-med requirements. Since my family lived in Hong Kong at the time, I loved the concept of a sponsor group that would serve as my family away from home. I also appreciated all the learning opportunities that being part of the Claremont Consortium offered. Lastly, I loved the location. It’s sunny and warm practically all year round. I love food, and there’s plenty of incredible food from all over the world in the area. There are also so many fun recreational activities at your fingertips like gorgeous beaches, world-famous amusement parks, and Joshua Tree. And lastly, it was relatively easy to fly to and from home to see my parents.

What advice would you give to current or incoming Sagehens interested in applying for medical school?

Sammy: I would encourage people interested in medicine to gain as much clinical experience as possible by volunteering in their local hospital or joining medical mission trips. This enables you to gain a better understanding of what medicine looks like day-to-day and to learn about the many different roles within medicine (i.e. physicians, nurses, physical/occupational/respiratory therapists). This will also help you decide if 1) medicine is the right fit for you; and 2) which role appeals to you most as they are all equally important when it comes to patient care. Medicine is a truly rewarding and gratifying field, but it’s also a very long, expensive, and challenging journey filled with sacrifices, so you should be very sure that medicine is for you before choosing this career.

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