Senior is only undergraduate to work in ICU

For the typical college student, Saturday nights are the time to kick back, relax and have a good time. But for senior Daniel Lee, Saturday nights mean the overnight shift at GW Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

From 7:30 p.m. Saturday to 7:30 the next morning, Lee assists nurses, works with patient charts, monitors rooms, answers calls, and assists with the cleaning and transport of deceased patients. The only GW undergraduate to work in the ICU, Lee usually spends 30 hours a week at the hospital, where he has worked since his sophomore year.

“It’s a stressful environment and it is important to be empathetic,” said Barbara Jacobs, director of ICU and respiratory therapy at the GW Hospital. “(Daniel) is extremely personable and very compassionate. He will make a wonderful physician one day.”

Lee, a native of Northern Virginia, will earn his bachelor’s degree in biology at the end of the semester, which he plans to parlay into a medical career. But before Lee takes up work as a primary care physician, he plans to leave his mark on Pakistan and at the White House.

At age 22, Lee has already participated in medical missions to Kenya and Mexico. Last month, as the only student accompanying a group of eight GW doctors, Lee traveled to Garhi Dopatta in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to help set up a temporary hospital for victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake. Lee said it is his experiences abroad that help him see the true calling of medicine.

“When I went to Pakistan, it was really medicine in its rawest, purest form,” he said. “The doctors are treating patients not because they want money or fame, but because they want to help people.”

Lee plans to return to Pakistan over winter break to continue lending his hand to earthquake relief efforts. Haroon Rashid, a GW doctor who traveled on the relief effort trip with Lee, said he could see the deep level of commitment in the up-and-coming medical student.

“If you look at (medicine) without any regard to where you’re from or where you think the need is greatest, human beings are suffering,” Lee said. “Suffering is universal. It’s equal.”

Although Lee said he’s inspired by direct doctor-patient relationships, he feels he can make the biggest impact on healthcare by working at the policy level. Whether he helps people through personal care or high-minded ideas, Lee sees medicine as a field without boundaries.

“Wherever the need is greatest, you go there,” he said. “(Patients) are here in D.C. They’re in the slums of Kenya. Where I’ll end up, I don’t know, but I know that’s what I want to do.”

Lee said he’s also motivated to examine medicine at the research level. This past summer, under the Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship, Lee studied breast cancer cells and gene therapy, which he developed into the subject of his senior thesis paper.

Lee stressed that the most challenging aspect of his research was spending hours examining a major health threat that has no clear cure that may be achieved in his lifetime.

Senior Raza Alam, a long-time friend of Lee, said he admires Lee’s dedication to the field of medicine.

“What I admire about him is that he wants to be a doctor to help people,” Alam said. “Everything he does in his life is to help people.”

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