From Tibet to the US: meet the “barefoot doctor”

David Y. Zhang is a prestigious scientist of Chinese origins living in New York, where he cares for the most vulnerable communities in the city.

David Y. Zhang is the medical director of the Excelsior Laboratory in New York City. He was born and raised in Tibet, where he worked the fields and held different jobs in factories —so he knows how tough a day can really be. In his early days as a medical student, he made his first visits and medical practices barefoot, just like the patients he had to care for. That shared situation made him build deeper connections with his patients, and he ended up leaning towards Occupational Medicine as his specialty.

“I just like to help people,” he says.

A prestigious researcher

Today, Dr. Zhang is a prestigious researcher in the United States. He has obtained more than ten biotechnology patents —some of them related to cancer diagnosis processing—, has published numerous books, and written more than 100 scientific articles. He is also the Medical Director of the East China American Physicians (ECAP), IPA, and Executive Vice President of the China Community Accountable Care Organization (CCACO).

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His legacy is undoubtedly scientifically relevant, but he rather underscores his connection to the community. “We Chinese have a hard time asking for help, and expressing ourselves as a community. We are rather shy. We needed some kind of leadership to help us improve the health of the Chinese community in New York.”

The SOMOS medical network has been an effective instrument to achieve what the Chinese community in New York needs, with Dr. Ramón Tallaj (its founder), and Dr. Henry Chen, of Chinese origin, as its president.

“Doctor, I feel better now”

For Dr. Zhang, a medical career has vocational meaning. For him, medicine is a service that everyone should have access to, regardless of race, religion, income, or gender.

“I am grateful —Dr. Zhang explains— that I have been able to do something that can impact future generations and my community. When you see a patient, and you make a diagnosis and provide that patient with treatment, and then the patient comes back and says ‘doctor, I feel better, my knee doesn’t hurt anymore,’ that… that makes your day.”

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