By Emma Terry, Contributing Writer
As co-director of UAB’s new ALS clinic, Dr. Nan Jiang is one of the faces patients see as they navigate the disease.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The disease causes paralysis that affects walking, speaking, swallowing, and breathing.
Dr. Jiang received her doctorate in Japan before her interest in research and medicine led her to the University of Florida. There, she continued her research and began to focus on neuroscience.
The catch was that she did not have her medical license in America, she said.
“You can learn a lot from patients… but I didn’t have a clinical license in America, so I had to take the [United States Medical Licensing Exam].”
During the day Dr. Jiang said she would do her research, and after work, she would study for the exam. The language barrier was a challenge she had to overcome, she said.
After her time in Gainesville, she went to Duke for a year-long fellowship program where she worked with EMG or electromyography. EMG tests the health of nerve cells.
Many times, patients would see Dr. Jiang during the first part of their visit and then have an appointment with another doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Dr. Jiang said she found a passion for helping others and delivering good news instead of bad.
“It is very sad… even here and now whenever I do the EMG test… my heart just hurts,” she said. “Sometimes when the results were normal and the referral was wrong, I felt so happy.”
After interviewing at UAB and learning more about the area, she said she knew she found the place she wanted to be.
“The conversation was not that long, probably 30 minutes, but after that, I felt like UAB was my place,” she said.
Looking back, Dr. Jiang said her mother called her “brave” for relocating from Japan to pursue a career in medicine.
“I’m not brave,” she said. “I’m just doing normal things.”