Dr. Lisa Wang, Class of 2024 – Resident Profile

Dr. Lisa Wang’s educational background was not a typical pre-med path, but along the way she discovered a passion for medicine, particularly neurology and acute hospital care. During her time at Vanderbilt, she has appreciated the way the residency program is always striving to improve, as well as the surprising connections she has built with her patients. A recent family emergency has sharpened her perspective about how supportive the Vanderbilt community is of residents and their families.

In her free time, she focuses her time on her partner and their daughter (which includes art studio, “toddler tutu” class, and Dollywood). 

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Indiana. I lived in Indianapolis, and right before high school moved to Carmel. I went to Indiana University in Bloomington for college and studied biology. At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Toward the end of undergrad, I was desperate for a job and saw an ad to help a graduate student with capstone research. I got the scholarship [for the position], and I ended up doing research with lizard behavior that summer. Since that was the only thing I had really done in terms of work, I went ahead and applied to grad school for a Ph.D. So after I graduated, I went to the University of Arizona for a couple of years to study butterflies. As I spent more time in the lab, I discovered I didn’t like research, and I liked people a lot more than I did butterflies. I knew it was the wrong path for me, so I left the program with a Master’s. 

I moved to Texas where my mom was living to try to figure out what to do next. My dad had always thought I would go into medicine, so I figured that if I was going to try it out, now was the time. I spent time as a “standardized patient” at the medical school in San Antonio, and also worked as a scribe to build my CV for a career in medicine. I took the MCAT, and applied to just about all the schools in the U.S. Of those, I earned three interviews. There was a lot against me, as I did not have a traditional pre-med path. I got accepted at IU and Texas A&M. I ended up attending A&M. 

In medical school, we did not have neurology as a required clerkship, so I didn't know much about it. I had eliminated any surgical or procedural specializations. My biggest interest early on was internal medicine, but I never felt that it was the right fit. At the end of my third year, I did an elective in neurology and absolutely fell in love with it. Much of internal medicine is trying to get test numbers in the correct range. Neurology is all about the exam. Any neurological problems you can see in real-time during the exam with that patient. So I pursued neurology.

What generated your interest in Vanderbilt?

My partner was actually the one that felt like Vanderbilt stood out to him. When I was going to interviews, I would come back and tell him about it. Vanderbilt was the only one that dedicated part of the interview day talking about family support. There are groups for spouses and significant others of the residents, and groups for parents. When you match at Vanderbilt, the residency program works to support significant others in finding a job in Nashville. There is a lot of emphasis placed on one’s family and life outside of residency. So it stood out to him, plus Vanderbilt was a top choice for me. 

Bryan’s intuition proved correct. We recently experienced a family emergency, culminating in a 2 ½ week hospitalization for him, that has demonstrated just how above and beyond the department (and Vanderbilt in general) has stepped up to rally behind us and support our family. From the moment we stepped into the Emergency Department, the attendings knew who I was, and they worked so hard to help my partner and keep me updated. I know they would do that for any patient, but it was incredible to witness first hand from the perspective of a family member. The nurses reached out to the GME office on my behalf to ensure that I wouldn’t have to worry about work at all that night or the next day (I was scheduled to work the following day). 

When I finally got a chance to email my colleagues in the department, they immediately said not to worry about work and that they would take care of everything. There was very little I had to do on my part to make sure all of my clinical and administrative duties were taken care of. We received a DoorDash gift card from the department that was such a help. I received so many emails, texts, and calls with offers of food, babysitting, or just offers to get out and chat in the courtyard. They helped me navigate FMLA, and the staff stepped up to advocate for additional FMLA when it was clear that Bryan’s recovery was going to be a longer journey. 

Of course I felt guilty for not being there and for leaving others with my responsibilities, but they encouraged me to take additional time off. My co-chief resident, Molly, picked up many more duties on my behalf, even though she’s very busy too. I don’t even have the words for how grateful and appreciative we are for the department. 

What are your career plans after residency? 

I just matched for a stroke fellowship here at Vanderbilt, so I’ll stay here one more year. 

Until recently, I was considering private practice after fellowship, but with everything that happened during Bryan’s hospitalization, I am now planning to stay on faculty here at Vanderbilt. First of all, because we are so thankful. We feel like the best way we can give back is to continue to contribute to our respective departments (he also works at Vanderbilt), the medical center, and the community at large. So we want to stay here as a demonstration of our gratitude for everything the community has done for us. Also, for the logistical reasons regarding his health. Having had the patient experience at Vanderbilt, we are amazed by how much people did to take care of us. He is now established with doctors, teams, and other providers who are based here at Vanderbilt who have long term plans for his health. It’s not easy being a patient in the healthcare system, so we don’t want to risk losing anything from that perspective. So for these reasons we will stay in Nashville for the foreseeable future.

What attracted you to stroke care and hospital medicine?

I like the acuity of care. I like that decisions need to be made in the moment about the next step—what lab or imaging to order or what treatment to pursue. I’m an impatient person, so I like that everything is expedited in the hospital. I also like the severity of conditions encountered in the hospital. I like complexity; I’m an analytical person. If someone is sick enough to be in the hospital, it’s interesting for me to figure out what’s going on. 

What have been some surprising aspects of residency so far? 

I was really surprised by how receptive our program is, especially Dr. Lee, to change and to improving. It seems like since day one there has always been something in the works to strive toward and make better. It’s not a stagnant program. Much of it is molded from the bottom up, not top-down.

As someone who prefers inpatient care, it’s been endearing how much of a connection I’ve had with my clinic patients. I was pregnant during my second year, and after I came back I would have patients ask how my baby was. I remember the first time someone asked I was so caught off guard! We are so focused on taking care of their health and well-being, we often forget about ours. So I was so appreciative when this patient asked me how I was doing. It’s been really nice to have that connection. 

And finally, I am in awe of how much above and beyond people went and are still going to support us with everything that has happened to us. I don’t know how we would have made it through all of this without everyone at Vanderbilt standing behind us, especially my department. I suppose I’m not really that surprised, since that family support was one of the things that brought me here in the first place!

What interests or hobbies do you enjoy when you’re not working? 

Now I just focus a lot on being a good mom. “Mom guilt" is very real. So much of my time is not spent with my family, so when I do have time, that’s all I want to do. We recently did Zoolumination for the second year in a row and just signed up for a membership at the Adventure Science Center. She loves to dance, so we signed her up for a toddler tutu class. Watching her become this little person is very fun and very rewarding. 

Do you have any upcoming vacations planned?

We are planning a weekend trip to Chattanooga in the springtime. Our daughter loves marine animals, so we are excited to show her the Tennessee Aquarium. 

What kind of media do you consume?

Music, trashy reality shows, Youtube, and podcasts. My daughter loves music ranging from Baby Shark to Taylor Swift to Childish Gambino. I think YouTube is confused about what kind of ads to show us because our video history is all over the place.