A Conversation with Liz Dzeng | See previous interviews

Liz Dzeng
Assistant Clinical Professor

LIz Dzeng

I saw on your resume that there was an English address. How long did you live there?

I actually just came back from the UK. I lived there for the past four years, but before that, on and off for two years. I did my MPhil there in Development Studies, between my third and fourth year of medical school. Then I came back to the US to finish medical school and residency, but I wanted to go back there to do my PhD at Cambridge.

What was the biggest cultural shock between the UK and the US?

Actually, it's funny. I've been there so long that I feel more culture shock coming back to the US. I was doing a joint fellowship, a general and internal medicine fellowship at Hopkins and a PhD at Cambridge in sociology, so I was going back and forth over the past four years. I spent most of my time in the UK though. There are definitely differences between the US and the UK. The streets are a lot larger here; cars are gigantic. People dress much more formally in the UK. I'm used to the way that things are done there, so it's been a bit of an adjustment coming back. The other adjustment is moving to San Francisco from Baltimore and being in a new city. There are differences between the East Coast and West Coast that I've noticed, so there's been a lot of adjusting.

Can you tell me about your family? Do you have a big family?

My family is in Baltimore. My parents are originally from Taiwan so we have a small family here. I have a younger brother. When I was living in Cambridge, I was also a fellow at Hopkins so returned frequently for research and clinical rotations. I stayed with them, which was a good opportunity to stay in touch.

Do you still have a lot of family in Taiwan?

Actually, my extended family is entirely based in Taiwan. I've only been there about four times. It's kind of funny because I have always felt like I've had a small family presence here. During holidays where I stayed with friends, I would think that it was so nice that they'd have an extensive support system of friends and families to connect with over the holidays. Then I went to Taiwan and realized that's where they all were! I think this is the nature of immigrant families. There is always a disconnect between the place my parents grew up and the place I was raised.

Did you get to go back to the East Coast for Thanksgiving or were you here in San Francisco?

I was here. I had just come off service the day before. It was good. I'm also still trying to find my way around the Bay Area. I had a small gathering with some friends, and my friend was visiting from New York so I had a chance to see her.

What would you consider your ideal way to spend a free Saturday?

I'm excited to explore the Bay Area. I went to Stanford for undergrad so I've lived here before, but have been away for several years. I know that there are a lot of amazing things in the area to explore, but I haven't really had a chance to do them yet. On Sunday, I went on my first hike along the coast near Mt. Tam. It was gorgeous. I would love to be able to do that more. I would love to go wine tasting, visit Monterey, go to Yosemite, and hike at the Redwoods again. There is just a ton of stuff around here that I am looking forward to exploring.

Are you a big hiker?

It is important to me to be around nature, having some sort of connection to it. The Redwoods are one of my favorite areas. Last month, I was at a conference in Jackson Hole and had the opportunity to go to Yellowstone, which is one of my favorite National Parks. The American National Parks are something that I forgot how much I love, and I rediscovered my appreciation of natural beauty when I was at Yellowstone. I am looking forward to rekindling that aspect of my interests. In England there are some gorgeous areas too, such as Cornwall and the Lake District.

Did you travel a lot when you lived in England? I know it is a little more connected and easier to travel.

I really miss that part of living over there. It is just so easy to travel! For example, Amsterdam is only an hour away by plane. It takes longer to get to the airport and sit and wait for the flight than it does to get to Amsterdam! I did a lot of travel while I was there. I was also a pretty serious rower. Just before I came back to the US, I rowed in a regatta in Belgium. It only took an hour on the Eurostar to get to Brussels. It was really fun! I also ran my second half marathon with some friends in the South of France last year. That was amazing. My friends and I are going to go up to Scotland in January. We've rented a 13th century Scottish castle right on the edge of Saddell Bay. There is a sense of closeness within European nations and a feeling that you are more connected to each other. I really miss that connection and being able to hop over quickly.

What was your favorite place to travel?

The South of France. It makes me feel so calm and at peace going there. It was a rainy day on the day of the half marathon, but the days before it were just absolutely gorgeous. I love Nice and the area around it. Any place that has cliffs and oceans next to each other really appeals to me. California is great for that, too.

You call yourself a physician sociologist. What does that mean?

I did my PhD in medical sociology at Cambridge and the lens that I approach my research is sociological. There is a lot in the medical field that can be informed by the social sciences and ethics. There is a tendency to focus on the individual or the dyad between the patient and doctor. Maybe even triads like the patient, surrogate, and doctor. However, there is a system and culture within which we operate that is sometimes invisible to us but influences the things that we do. I want to focus on cultural factors that influence the way that we think about what is right and wrong and how that varies among institutions. My particular interest is in palliative care and end-of-life research and how our ethical thinking is influenced by the cultures in which we operate and how this affects physicians' communication practices and interaction with patients.

Thank you, Liz. It was great getting to know you better.

- by Kaila Wells

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