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Rebecca Tsang, MPH, MD, Gastroenterologist at NorthShore, is no stranger to NorthShore. Her father was a physician with NorthShore; while she did not think she wanted to be a doctor like him, she is one too. When she’s not practicing medicine, Dr. Tsang is practicing what she preaches: healthy living. Her recent physical activity was hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest and most recognizable mountain in Africa. Learn more about Dr. Tsang and her climb:
When did you know you wanted to go into medicine? Was there a particular moment of realization? Where did it all start?
My dad was a gastroenterologist and so I was exposed to medicine at a young age (cartoon books about poop in our bathroom). I actually did not want to be a doctor when I was younger because I wanted to be different. There was not a particular moment, but each step I took in my education based on my interests and strengths led me to medicine. I even took time off after college to see if I had interests in other careers, but I ended up pursuing medicine. Although there was not a particular moment of realization, I was changed by my medical experience in a small town in Kenya, where I saw medicine in its purest form and its impact on the people in the community.
When did your attention turn to gastroenterology? What led you to this specialty?
I was drawn to the variety of gastroenterology. The field includes critically ill patients and also healthier, milder conditions. There are also chronic illnesses and acute symptoms. In addition, I interact with older and also younger patients. My time is split between procedures as well as clinic. Not only do I have the chance to treat diseases, but I also have the opportunity to help improve the quality of life because gastrointestinal symptoms affect people's daily lives.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy that every day is different and each patient is unique. This gives me the opportunity to get to know each patient as an individual, as diseases and symptoms manifest and affect patients differently. Also, I love helping patients in the process of improving their health and quality of life.
What do you find most challenging about your field?
The same thing that I enjoy about my job also makes it the most challenging. Because every day is different and includes different patients and diseases, I am constantly being challenged in my thinking and management of diseases. I am constantly learning new things each day.
What do you think is the most important thing everyone should know about their health to improve or prevent GI conditions?
When making any dietary or behavioral changes in their life, I think it is most important for people to realize that smaller long-lasting changes are more impactful to one's health than bigger short-term changes. For example, juice cleanses do not have a long-lasting impact because people return back to their same diets as before. However, if you start to decrease the amount carbohydrates, sodas or fatty foods for a long period of time, this will have a long-lasting impact on your health.
You recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. When did this passion start?
I only started hiking big mountains this past year. My sister lived in Tanzania five years ago for study abroad. We always talked about going back one day to do this. We wanted to do a fundraiser for the American Heart Association in honor of my dad's death, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity as I had some time off before starting my job at NorthShore. That ended up being the main motivation for us while we were hiking, the cause and support from my family and friends in my dad's honor. With everyone's support, we raised close to $8000.
How do you build up to such a big climb? What was the most difficult part of the climb?
To be honest, the only multiple-day hike I did beforehand was the Lost City Trek in Colombia so I was going into this knowing that this was going to probably be the most physically challenging thing I have done. I tried to keep myself physically active with my workout classes (i.e. pure barre) and hiking up and down the stairs in my high-rise condo building. The hardest thing about a climb of this altitude (>19,000 feet) is that you do not know how your body is going to respond to the altitude until you get there. I lost my appetite for four days so had to push myself to eat energy bars.
Do you have another goal or another mountain you want to climb?
I think the experience on each mountain is unique which not only presents amazing views of nature but also comes with different challenges. I just hiked Patagonia's Torres del Paine and Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina and Chile, which was lower in altitude, but more challenging in terms of weather. I plan to hike Machu Picchu for my next mountain.