Susan Zhou

Susan Zhou, wearing black-tshirt with long black hair

Name: Susan Zhou

Researcher/Supervisor: Dr. David Lim

Area of Research: Familial Breast Cancer

Susan Zhou, wearing black-tshirt with long black hair

What sparked your interest in healthcare?
I have always been enamored by human anatomy and medicine, often being the one constantly asking questions in my high school biology and chemistry classes. However, after working at my community pharmacy and leading The Bloom Red Project, a non-profit donating period products to menstruators in need, I found myself even more captured by the stories of everyone I met. Whether it be children receiving their flu shots, elderly patients, or at-risk youth dealing with menstrual poverty, each of their journeys captivated me in their own ways. Working in healthcare, for me, is a way of applying my passion for science to respect each patient’s story while offering them dignity when they need it most.     

What interests you most about the area of research you’re working in and why?

Under the supervision of Dr. Lim, I am working in the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit. Our research work mainly focuses on the Risk Factor Analysis of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Study, which was started by Dr. Narod in 1996 and analyzes women with a BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation. What interests me most is the extent to which our research area incorporates a patient’s story. I feel honoured to engage with these stories every day. 

What has been your favourite/most enjoyable part about being in ESSP?

The people we meet! As part of ESSP, we are given many opportunities to meet and network with other researchers, doctors, pharmacists, hospital staff, and workshop presenters in our ESSP program sessions. I was also able to shadow at the Henrietta-Banting Breast Cancer Clinic for a day and had a lovely time meeting patients. In addition, the program works very closely with the STAR program at SickKids, and we were able to meet a lot of amazing people over there too. Hearing about their journeys and learning from new individuals inspired me a lot!  

Share a fun fact or surprising discovery you stumbled upon during research that made you say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”

Something I did not realize was how much breast cancer risk can be lowered or increased based on our own decisions. There are a lot of factors I was unaware of that would affect breast cancer risk such as our diet, caffeine intake, the onset of menarche, pregnancy, and surrounding environment. Disparities in race and socioeconomic status contribute to risk too. I went in with the knowledge that a BRCA1/2 gene mutation may increase one’s lifetime risk of breast cancer but coming out, I’ve realized there are a multitude of other factors which play an equally pivotal role. 

What are your goals for the future and how do you envision leveraging your experiences from this program to contribute to that?

Within my community work, I noticed that there are many health inequities faced by those from different backgrounds. Whether it be how vaccine forms are written in fonts too difficult to be read by those with cataracts or how younger menstruators of certain cultural backgrounds struggle to speak up to their primary healthcare providers, there are so many “blind spots” that we can’t understand or foresee. Growing up able-bodied in a family that supported menstruation, I would not have known about these disparities had I not received the chance to learn the stories of these individuals. I aspire to one day become a clinician-scientist in the women’s health field and work towards meaningful change through research. Being in this program introduced me to the field of research and medicine and has also equipped me with crucial skills needed to pursue research. The Emily Stowe Scholar Program has been an amazing experience and my time here has only grown my passion for achieving these goals.