Family Affair

Li brothers blazing a path together in medicine

It’s a Friday evening in early October and the Health Sciences Centre complex is still a bustle of activity. Henry Li arrives first.

The 20-year-old sits down in a campus coffee shop after a full day of classes in nearby Brodie Centre and Basic Medical Sciences Building. The second-year medical student is energetic despite the demands of his course work.

Minutes later, Jun Li, Henry’s older brother, joins the table. Jun is in his first year of residency and just coming off a 10-hour-long day. Despite being tired, Jun cracks a joke while tackling the first question: his age.

“With all the stuff I have to cram into my brain, I sometimes forget my own age,” says Jun, quickly remembering that he is, indeed, 25-years-old.

The brothers share an easy laugh over their mutual brain fatigue, which is symptomatic after long days at the hospital and on campus. Sharing laughs at the end of long days keeps them closely knit. The brothers, whether they acknowledge it or not, are blazing a trail of sorts. Both are hard-working, ambitious, and whip smart but it’s more than that.

At age 19, Henry became Doctors Manitoba’s youngest member. By that time, he had already breezed through an undergraduate science degree from the University of Manitoba, and was embarking on his first year of medical school. Jun, meanwhile, was finishing up in med school and at the tender age of 24 was heading into a residency in diagnostic radiology.

Medicine is in their blood line. Their father went to medical school in China. He immigrated to Canada and now runs an acupuncture clinic and traditional Chinese medicine practice in Manitoba. The brothers’ great grandfather also practiced Eastern medicine in China. Later, a family friend, also a physician, also helped spark the boys’ interest in medicine.

Henry credits these family connections, and later his older brother’s career path into medicine with helping him find his calling early.

Given their mutually shared career path, they relate to each other, perhaps a bit more than average brothers do.

“Between the two of us, we understand each other. I have an idea of what he’s going through and he’s already been what I’m going through,” says Henry.

While the family’s history played a part in their shared decision to go into medicine, both men credit their parents, and the experience of being children  of immigrants, with their early goal setting and ambition.

“I think, for both of us, we’ve always been really driven to go for the goals that we want,”says Jun.

“I always set myself up to do medicine,” adds Henry.

“I remember it was probably Grade 12,” says Jun speaking to his brother, “when you were deciding what courses to take and you asked me ‘which one of these (courses) was relevant for medicine and which ones were not.’”

“You remember it way better than I do,” says Henry, sharing a laugh with his brother.

“I think we got a little bit closer starting from that point as well,” adds Jun.

Henry took advantage of his brother’s advice and his experience but didn’t take any short cuts, particularly when it came to cracking the books. In med school, Jun was a meticulous note taker and offered his synopses of medical texts to his younger brother to help pave the road for his sibling.

“My notes were very nice and I colour coded them as well,” says Jun. “I condensed entire text books as well into 20 pages and he didn’t read any of them,” says Jun, with a smile.

“(Jun) gave me his notes but I was too lazy to look at them,” says Henry. “I learned better doing them myself.”

It must be stated: Neither brother can be described as lazy, by any definition.

Henry will soon be learning something that his older brother Jun, in his first year of residency, is facing first hand right now. It goes hand in hand with temporarily forgetting your age. And there’s no amount of brotherly advice or wisdom that Jun can offer to help blaze this trail for his younger brother. Henry will just have to grind it out like every other physician in training, from the past, present, or in the future.