Timothy Lin used family’s encouragement to reach his highest calling

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As if Match Day wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, 15 minutes before noon and the start of the distribution of Match Day envelopes, Timothy Lin was told he that his classmates had elected him class speaker. 

Timothy Lin“I was thrilled and honored and a bit blindsided,” he said of that exciting day. “Now I’m just nervous. How do you sum up four unbelievable years and be funny and wise and memorable?”

Speakers for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Graduate School of Nursing are selected by faculty and the dean, but students in the graduating class of the School of Medicine elect their speaker, which is reflective of how tight-knit they become over four grueling years spent in each other’s company. (Another example of that closeness: this year’s class hews to the old adage that about 10 percent of the students will marry a classmate—five couples will graduate together this year. Must be something about the anatomy and physiology courses.)

Like many of his classmates, Lin says, he always had an interest in science and medicine. As a child suffering from asthma that landed him in the hospital at least once or twice a year, Lin became comfortable with doctors and caregivers, people he admired and hoped one day to emulate. Growing up in Newton with a father who had emigrated from Taiwan, Lin and his older brother and two older sisters—and his cousin David Chiu, who is also in the class of 2010—often heard their extended family’s gentle prodding to pursue lofty goals. “The presumption was that you’d reach for the highest calling, and for me that was to be a doctor and help others.”

Tim’s first direct introduction to medicine as a career came through his undergraduate program at Washington University in St. Louis, where he majored in French. Traveling in Nice, France, he had the opportunity to participate in a shadow program and witness orthopedic surgery. “The surgeon was operating on a young girl from Africa who’d had polio; her right leg was deformed,” Lin recalled. The surgeon’s task was to realign the femur. “I was fascinated: he had her hip opened and out of the socket and by the time he was done, the femur was straight. To see someone make such a difference in a child’s life that way was just remarkable to me.”

Throughout medical school, Lin says he left his options open “as long as possible,” finally deciding upon orthopedic surgery only after his fourth-year rotation, during which he became “hooked on the notion that you can offer a patient real relief from pain and disability” through a relatively short surgery. “Seeing results from surgery, and knowing you had a hand in helping someone heal, is uniquely satisfying.”

As for being the Commencement speaker, Lin is still humbled by the honor of being selected by a group of people he’s come to know and love. “I can’t say enough about my classmates,” he said. “I think we’re all surprised that these four years have passed so quickly, even though they sometimes seemed grueling and never ending. We’ve learned so much from our professors and from each other that it’s hard to imagine moving on.”

In July, Lin will go to Dartmouth for his orthopedic surgery residency; his UMass roommate, John Fallon, also matched at Dartmouth for general surgery and the two have already found an apartment together in the area. “We both worked hard throughout medical school, so it’s great we can continue to rely on each other in residency. Plus, it’ll be really fun,” he said with a smile.

To see a video interview with Timothy, click here.