Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Elaine Dong, Rice University (Jones)

Elaine Dong

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

“Cleft lip and palate patient, visual arts major, dancer, and caregiver; loves Hot Cheetos.”

Hometown: Houston, TX

Fun Fact About Yourself: In the summer of 2018, I directed a documentary on the culture and social repercussions of plastic surgery in Seoul, South Korea. This is a link to the unlisted video.

Undergraduate School and Major: Harvard University, Visual and Environmental Studies

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Medical Student and Student Senate Co-Chair at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM)

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?

I chose Rice Business due to its proximity and connection with the BCM, which would allow me to:

1) Remain enrolled at BCM and continue fulfilling my responsibilities as the Medical Student Senate Co-Chair, the Student Group Advisory Committee Chair, an Honor Council Representative, and an LCME (medical accreditation) committee member.

2) Continue to care for patients in the Texas Medical Center and maintain my relationships with my peers, mentors and faculty.

3) Complete an MBA with minimal interruption of my medical education, allowing me to immediately apply the skills I learn as I enter residency.

What club or activity excites you most at this school:

  • Forte fellowship due to their work in reinventing women’s space in leadership
  • Rice Business Women’s Organization / Healthcare Association / Rice Business Gives Back / Net Impact

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Rice? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? I am excited to interact with the diverse community of leaders at Rice and to learn about their unique experiences in their respective fields. I’m also looking forward to gaining a key skill set that I believe is critical to healthcare but is unfortunately unfamiliar to many physicians. I know that this journey will be challenging but will be an invaluable opportunity for personal growth.

I am nervous primarily because I have never had formal job experience, unlike most of my classmates. Though I have worked hard and have had a full experience in medical school so far, I know I have much to learn from my peers about the “real world.”

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My greatest accomplishment so far is the work that I have done for the Global Smile Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide surgical care to cleft lip and palate patients in underserved communities around the world. Using my visual arts experience, I have created educational films and animations for the free education of plastic surgeons around the world in hopes of improving local healthcare opportunities for patients like me. In 2018, I had the opportunity to join this group on a life changing mission to Trujillo, Peru.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Even as a medical student, I can tell that there are a lot of aspects of the healthcare system that desperately need changes and doing so requires concrete skills (e.g. understanding corporate behavior, management, etc.). I think it is important to develop these skills as early as possible if I am committed to making these changes.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? None

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The most challenging question that I was asked during the business school admissions process was this:  “How else could you have done better?”

I was asked to describe a difficult decision that I have had to make and to explain how I could have handled the situation better. I gave my honest answer and then the interviewer asked, “Let’s assume that you were able to do that. How else could you have done better?” – and she did this 2-3 times. I was forced to think deeper about my past experiences than I ever had before, and it helped reveal some of the core, underlying goals that I have for myself as a leader.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? I have been highly involved in the student senate at BCM and as a medical student on rotations. At the core of my efforts, I am trying to get a nuanced idea of what exactly needs change and how I can fit into that picture most effectively. For example, I take every opportunity to discuss with faculty and with department chairs about the projects they wish they had time to implement. From these conversations, I try to imagine what aspects of business school I should focus on most so that I can best apply what I learn.

Additionally, I have been brushing up on the necessary information. Because I was a premedical student in college and majored in the visual arts, I know that I have much room to improve. Currently, I am taking Coursera’s Finance for Non-Finance Professionals, taking notes on available pre-coursework, and setting up a strong mentorship network so that I will know who to reach out to when I need help.

Finally, I am positioning myself to continue being an effective leader at BCM. Since I will still be serving as the Co-Chair of the Medical Student Senate during my first year at Rice Business, I have been actively reaching out to members of the student senate, incoming medical students, and leaders of all the medical student organizations so that I have a clear idea of what projects we can begin and refine at BCM.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school?

About one year ago, I was rotating through a competitive surgical subspecialty. Around 7 a.m., we had completed rounding and were preparing for the upcoming cases of the day, when a nurse walked into the team room and announced, nonchalantly, that one of the elderly patients on our service – whom we had rounded on less than an hour prior – had coded (lost his vital signs) after receiving a scheduled medication and was currently being transported to the ICU.

I remember looking at the chief’s weathered face as he waved his hand dismissively, saying that he “will handle it later,” while appearing to fight off the incoming wave of guilt that threatened to cloud his judgment for the rest of his 16-hour day. Earlier that morning, the patient had mentioned to us, laughing, that he had refused a medication last evening because “it almost killed me last time.” He asked the team to remove it from his medication list and to find him an alternative. Several of us scribbled down a quick note next to his name before moving to the next room. Perhaps this patient let down his guard and assumed that his medical team would have taken care of it because he proceeded to take that exact medication when his nurse offered it to him again moments later.

As a student, I can only speculate as to why that had happened. Whether it was because the residents (who had graduated at the tops of their medical school classes) were too exhausted to remember to change the medication order or because they simply had not had time to do so after returning to the workroom, the result was the same. The patient had nearly died. In his best case scenario, he would not suffer any further physical harm and would only face the psychological trauma of an unnecessary ICU stay.

While I had already prepared all the materials that I needed to apply to business school, at that moment, I knew that going to business school was, for me, a necessity and not an option. Mistakes like that have no place in medicine, yet there exist severe flaws in the current healthcare system that still allow such events to happen – even if they are rare. From this experience, I have realized that it is important to be critical and simultaneously optimistic; in business school, I am prepared to work hard to gain the skills that will allow me to identify and fill even the tiniest of holes that are still failing patients every day. As one of my attendings once said, “We can be 99.9% perfect, but that still means that 1 out of every 1000 patients is going to suffer a bad result. If you were that 1 patient, wouldn’t you fight to eliminate that 0.1% chance?”

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? Why? I seek an employer who generates respect and also respects and cares for everyone around them; I believe that kindness and compassion are the strongest personal qualities that a person can have and working with those who exhibit these qualities is my greatest source of inspiration.

Pretend you have just graduated from business school. What will you need to have done to make your experience successful?

  • Getting to know all of my business school classmates and professors on a personal level while maintaining strong relationships with my peers and faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine.
  • Actively applying concepts from MBA courses to as many medical and personal events as possible and hopefully gaining new insight on how to begin establishing better incentives within the medical industry.