18 May 2015
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The First Five Years: Rena Xu (MBA 2014, MD 2014)

Massachusetts General Hospital resident physician Rena Xu on the doctor’s life, x-rays, and unicorns… yes, unicorns.

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What inspired you to pursue a career in medicine and how does your HBS MBA fit into this career path?

“I was drawn to medicine because I loved the idea that knowledge and skill could directly translate into improving the lives of others. I also loved the human aspect of it. The relationship between patient and doctor has few parallels, and I am sure my appreciation of it will only continue to grow as I advance in my career.

“HBS greatly enriched my understanding of the challenges and opportunities in health care today. It’s an exciting time to be working in the trenches, and I am hopeful that with the MBA, I’ll be better equipped to identify promising new ideas in the field and help bring them to fruition in clinical practice.”

What has your experience as a first-year resident been like?

“For the first few weeks of residency, I felt like a fraud every time I said I was a doctor. I think I’ve come a long way since then, but, still, almost every day there will be a moment when I cannot believe that this is my job, that I get to do the things I do. In surgery, the lives placed in our hands are palpable. That is incredibly humbling.”

What have been the best and most challenging parts of the job?

“The best parts have been the relationships—with patients, and with peers. As residents we rotate onto different services each month, but the bonds that we form with our patients are real, and the sense of investment in their health lasts long after we leave their care team. It’s a testament to the culture of medicine that even with so many handoffs and transitions in care these days, these relationships can still be so strong.

“I’ve also been blessed with a truly amazing group of co-residents, who have come to feel like family. We work hard and look out for each other, and that has made all the difference.

“The hardest part of the job has been coping with the death of patients. On an abstract level, I understand that death is part of this line of work, but at the individual level, it remains profoundly difficult to accept. And I don’t know if it ever gets easier.”

How do you use what you learned at HBS in your role at Mass. General?

“Residency is all about teamwork. I find that the things I learned from the many team-based experiences we had at HBS—from ‘climbing’ Everest to traveling for FIELD 2 to building a company—apply on a daily basis to work in the hospital.”

What was your first HBS cold call like?

“Believe it or not, I never got a cold call in my entire time at HBS! I know—I missed out on a seminal experience.”

Do you have a favorite HBS case? If you do, which one is it and why did it have such a profound impact on you?

“There are too many. In EC year, I took Bob Higgins’s class on Entrepreneurship in Healthcare IT and got to learn about (and in many cases meet the case protagonists of) a number of companies in the area— Kyruus, Steward Health Care, athenahealth, and more. It made me realize how much opportunity there is to improve health care delivery, and also how fortunate I am to be working in health care in Boston, where there is such a high density of talent and great ideas.”

Where was your favorite place to study on the HBS campus?

“Baker Library was a good place to crank out cases without distraction, but mostly Spangler was my home base. In the winter, nothing was better than curling up in front of a Spangler fireplace—the warmth, the hot chocolate, the large weird art on the walls, the comforting flow of foot traffic—it made studying almost too enjoyable.”

What advice do you have for current students interested in careers in medicine?

“Make sure you really want to do it. Medicine is tremendously rewarding, but the path is a long one, and there are a lot of other ways to make a meaningful contribution in health care.”

What’s the story behind your Twitter handle…besides the fact, of course, that unicorns are awesome? (Note: Xu’s Twitter handle is @xrayunicorn)

“I worked in consulting before medical school and had to travel a lot. One time a colleague and I were stranded in a snowstorm and had to rebook our flights. On the phone with the travel agent, my colleague spelled out my last name using the military alphabet: X as in ‘X-ray,’ U as in ‘uniform.’ I thought he’d said unicorn—probably because I heard what I wanted to hear—and found it so absurd that I had to adopt it. Ever since then people have called me X-ray Unicorn.”

Can you finish this statement? “Life as a resident is…”

“Not like the TV shows!”

Follow Rena Xu on Twitter at https://twitter.com/xrayunicorn.

Photo by Yan Xu

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Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2014, Section A
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