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We Are Stanford Med: #ThisIsMyWhy with Grace Li

Stanford Medicine student Grace Li shares her passions inside and outside of medicine -- including a new book she's written.

They're students, clinicians, scientists and researchers. They're also artists, influencers, patients, scholars and advocates. They hail from all over the globe and come to Stanford Medicine carrying big ideas and dreams. With passions that stretch beyond the lab, classroom and clinic, they share their "why" as they pursue science and medicine.

Grace Li grew up with parents who were both cancer researchers, but she never thought she would pursue a career in medicine or science. She spent a lot of time reading -- so much that her worried parents asked to meet with the school librarian.

One to blaze her own path, Li, now a Stanford University medical student and bestselling author, thought, "I'm going to be my own person and have my own interests." But when she took her first biology class in high school, she couldn't help but home in on the sciences, just as her parents did.

Li fell in love with the way biology helps explain how the world works. At Duke University, she majored in biology and minored in creative writing. After graduation, Li taught high school biology at a Title I school in the Bronx through the Teach for America program. As the daughter of immigrants, Li has always believed strongly in education as a tool for change, especially for low-income communities and communities of color. While teaching, Li realized that medicine had the potential to do the same. "Often, my students would ask me questions meant for their doctors, and I wanted to be able to give them an answer."

Med school and a bestseller

In 2019, Li started her first year at the Stanford School of Medicine, a place she chose for its flexible curriculum and the opportunities it offers students to explore interests both within and outside of medicine.

Stanford Medicine's unique infrastructure for medical humanities and programs, such as the yearly writing retreat put on by the Medicine & the Muse program, also appealed to Li. "It offers students an opportunity to think more deeply about themselves and the world," she said. "And it assumes, correctly, that it makes us better med students and future physicians."

That flexibility and support gave Li the time to finish writing a book she began after graduating college: a story about five Chinese American college students who embark on a series of heists at Western museums, stealing art originally looted from Beijing. In spring of 2022, Li's novel, Portrait of a Thief, was released by Tiny Reparations Books, a division of Penguin Random House. It quickly became a New York Times bestseller and is in development for a TV show.

Li has always felt strongly about the need for Asian representation in the arts. Writing this so-called Chinese American Ocean's 11 and seeing people respond to it is exciting, she said, but also long overdue. Growing up, she seldom read or saw characters who looked like her. "It took me many years to realize that stories about people like me could be worth telling, that other people might want to read it," Li said.

Now a third-year medical student, Li has started her rotations, when medical students see patients within a variety of specialties, from family medicine to surgery. And she's working on her second book -- in the moments when she has free time. What will this be about? That's still under wraps, but Li thinks it will feature a place she knows well: Stanford Medicine.

Watch the rest of the We Are Stanford Med series here.

Photo by Luceo

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