Bob J. Wu, MD, FACS
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and lived there for the first 8 years of my life. As a child I was content to live in this major urban center, and did not imagine how life would be different otherwise. However, my father had aspirations for a new possibility; life somewhere with more open spaces, green lawns where kids could run free, swimming pools in backyards, and perhaps most importantly, an educational system where children can learn and expand their horizons more freely, rather than face grueling hours of after school tutoring 6 days a week, in an ultra-competitive model involving endless placement exams which is still typical of many Asian countries today.
Moving to California was the fulfillment of all these things. Being the youngest member of the family I was the biggest immediate beneficiary of the bold move. I was able to learn English and catch up academically in about 2 years. However, during that time I was acutely aware of the sacrifices that my parents sustained to make this American dream come true. They had given up stable and well paying careers to become new immigrants with little job or financial security.
Transitioning to a new culture was not completely smooth-sailing for me either; on a smaller scale I faced some typical identity issues common in junior and senior high school; being included or excluded based on whether one is more “Americanized” or “F.O.B.” In the crucial formative teenage years I was fortunate to have a church community who I felt sincerely loved and accepted me for who I was, and encouraged me to develop leadership skills. Being a youth group leader cultivated confidence, and allowed me to discover skills and talents which I would otherwise not have developed, eventually standing up and earning the respect of my peers even in high school. I have always loved music and sports, but even in high school I realized my strongest suit was in science, and surprisingly, always did well in Spanish, acquiring my third language.
Knowing education would be my key to success and being aware of the sacrifices that my family had made, I did not take my grades lightly. In fact I worked hard to ensure a perfect GPA through high school and was fortunate to receive the Regent’s scholarship which covered my fees through all 4 years of UCLA. There again I was briefly tempted to pursue the humanities, but again realized my strength had always been in science and medicine. Nevertheless I took the unusual route of being a Spanish major, knowing being fluent in a 3rd language would always be useful, whether I become a doctor, missionary, or even staying in Southern California.
The next major influence in my life would be Loma Linda School of Medicine, where not only did I receive an excellent medical education, but was inspired by the school’s motto and mission to “carry on the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus Christ.” The altruistic mission of the school was what inspired me to become a surgeon, a person with immediate life-saving skills which transcend any language barrier, and is needed all over the world, especially in underprivileged places. It was this hope and aspiration that kept me going through the ten years of training – 4 in medical school, 5 in residency, and 1 more in fellowship. Along the way I was blessed to find my soul mate, a wife who shared all of my deepest values, also being an Asian American and a physician herself.
For now my personal American dream has come full circle. For the last 5 years I have worked as a general surgeon serving the communities around Monterey Park and Rowland Heights; the exact same neighborhoods where I began my life in the US. In serving patients I use Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and even Spanish more than English; many of my patients are first generation Taiwanese American immigrants just like my parents, and not infrequently, some of them even know them personally! Though my dreams of being a missionary surgeon going to far off places have yet to be fulfilled, in the meantime there is satisfaction in knowing that my skills, training, and languages are being used to their full extent, serving a community with trusted surgical care along with cultural understanding that few others can provide.