Third-year medical student Helen Sun is helping her colleagues’ work get published. But in this effort, she’s not focused on getting scientific articles into journals.
Instead, she and her classmates conduct “peer reviews” of poetry, photography, drawings and other creative endeavors from faculty, staff and students at the School of Medicine for The Case Western Blot, the school’s student-run arts and humanities magazine.
“Medical students typically are involved in a lot of basic science and very in-depth technical endeavors, but we don’t really have the outlet for creativity and humanism,” she said. “I thought this was such a good idea for people to showcase different talents.”
Inspired by that mission, Sun stepped up to become the magazine’s co-editor for its second edition, alongside rising third-year medical student Xinrui Zhang.
And when the magazine needed more long-form pieces to add balance to the poetry-heavy issue, Sun also became a contributor.
Inspired by a story a mentor shared with her, Sun sought to use her passion for writing as a way to paint a narrative of drug addiction. In her short nonfiction story, “Call for Help” (pg. 14), she focused on the relationship between a mother and her son, who is addicted to drugs—and the feelings between them.
“I was trying to capture that tension between really loving someone and wanting to take care of somebody, but also recognizing that you’re not the one who can help them,” she said.
While she first felt drawn to write during her undergraduate years at the University of California, Berkeley, as a way to get her thoughts out of her mind, Sun never felt comfortable sharing her work publicly. This marked the first time Sun had her writing published.
“Like a lot of people, I’m pretty self-conscious about my work, so I definitely have mixed feelings about seeing it in print,” she said. “I was nervous even putting it up for submission, knowing that it would be read by our editorial staff. But on the other hand, it’s really affirming to have this piece out there and write for others, as well as myself.”
Now, after successful stewardship of the magazine’s second edition and to focus more on their studies, Sun and Zhang will pass on duties to new editors, as the publication’s cofounders did to them.
However, they plan to remain with the publication in advisory roles. And Sun hopes that even when she begins her career in medicine, she will continue to be involved with a creative outlet.
Read Sun’s answers to this week’s five questions, then head over to casemed.org/case-western-blot.html to check out the latest edition of Case Western Blot and hear the magazine’s first musical mix, by DJ Vitamin K (aka medical student Kevin Koech).
1. What’s your favorite place in Cleveland?
I really like the Cultural Gardens on [Martin Luther King Jr. Drive]. They’re a hidden gem. It’s not a place a lot of people go to, or you might just drive by without looking twice at it. But I took a friend who was visiting there for the first time last year. We were both blown away by how Cleveland has so many cultures within it and how much pride the city takes in showcasing the diversity here. It’s a really pretty area to drive through, and especially to walk around.
2. If you could have any superpower, what would you pick?
Probably to be able to speak to anybody throughout history—whether dead or alive—to get their different perspectives. If I was in a difficult situation, it would be so cool to consult [physicist] Richard Feynman or [former President] Barack Obama, and at least have their personality and sensibilities inside my head.
3. When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I had two things I wanted to be.
One was a grocery store cashier because I thought scanning items and typing in the different numbers was super satisfying. So when self-checkout became a real thing that was definitely a dream come true.
The other was an Animorph because I was obsessed with that book series when I was little.
4. Throughout all of your schooling, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
No one’s going to be able to read your mind, but if you’re passionate about something, it will show and people will want to help you out with it.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The faculty members. I was really surprised when I came here with how supportive they were, especially on a one-on-one basis. They were willing to take the time to give me the help I need and try to make my experience the best possible one for me. I think that’s how I got through a lot of my first and second years, because I had certain mentors who would help me do research and figure out what to do. They encouraged me to make cold phone calls and cold emails to people who I didn’t feel like I could get in contact with.