Ilyana Voth-BC-Winner

Asparagus: 2019 Scholarship Winner (BC)

Ilyana Voth

University of British Columbia – Doctor of Medicine – 2023

I can hear it clear as day: the sound of my Dad poking through his plate of baby asparagus at the dinner table like a child sorting lego. Sarcastically he grunts, “What the heck is this?” smirking playfully at me across the table. I am 13. He knows I don’t like asparagus either.

“Len,” my Mom replies, “you can’t eat mini wheat cereal all day and expect to live forever. Try something green for once.” Spoiler alert. He didn’t eat his asparagus.

In the following years I reflected on this moment often. My Dad lived through his first, second, third, and fourth ischemic stroke, flowing through medications and hospitals like an ocean wave. Yet he never ate his asparagus.
Eventually my family started referring to the Lions Gate Hospital as the ‘LG Hotel.’ We joked we should start collecting loyalty points from all our visits. I recall the neurologist at his bedside during his most recent episode say, “Len, our only hope is to get you back to normal and out of here.” Normal? I thought. What is that? Normal means he’ll be back next week. We felt helpless.

Through each surf into the LG Hotel, the nagging counsel of my Mom cut through my thoughts like a fish knife. I wondered if we’d be there had he eaten his asparagus.

At 18, I chose to leave home and study the sciences. In 2017, I graduated with a degree in Applied Biology from UBC. I recall scrolling through job boards a week after graduation, ready to settle for some laboratory assistant position when I came across a job opening at Molecular You.

With some research, I learned that Molecular You is a personalized health technology start-up in Vancouver comprised of talented scientists, doctors, and developers. Altogether they are building an AI healthcare platform that interprets huge data (thousands of molecular biomarkers, genes, and medical history points) in a multi-dimensional approach to predict future disease. With a single blood sample and an extensive literature database, Molecular You AI can recommend simple yet personalized lifestyle changes to help you redirect while you still have time. I was awestruck. I thought about asparagus.

It took several attempts but I finally nestled my way into this ground-breaking organization with some persistence and potentially pestering e-mails to the CEO. I knew Molecular You was doing something no one else in healthcare was doing: trying to change the meaning of medicine. I knew I had to be a part of it.

My job, once I finally persuaded the team to bring me on, was to explain preventative health to people who thought “healthcare” was synonymous with “hospital,” and that “medicine” meant “medication.” People like my Dad. I was surprised how many physicians thought this way too.

I continued to work at Molecular You for a year trying to explain the value of preventative health to countless doctors, pharmacists, and specialists. Ultimately I became frustrated at the lack of team-based communication and willingness to change that haunts our healthcare system today.

But yet, I completely understood the hesitation. These experts were taught conventional medicine: an approach that compares the individual to the statistical average. It’s reactive, not proactive. It’s ‘one size fits all’ and its goal is to heal, not prevent. I quickly learned conventional medicine cannot understand the individual as just that: an individual.

It was this realization that inspired me to apply to UBC Medicine. I wanted to become the doctor that I could not find: the non-conventional doctor who investigates patients as unique biological systems before prescribing antibiotics just-in-case; the doctor who embraces team-based care and holistic treatment strategies before prescriptions; the doctor who compliments scientific principals with empathy.

I will strive to empower my patients with knowledge. I will ensure they feel in control of their health by recognizing small lifestyle changes have lasting impacts. I will practice with the motto that sickness should not be treated but rather prevented altogether. This is the practice I will operate and the doctor I will become for families like my own and patients like my Dad.

And most importantly, I will always remind my patients to eat their asparagus. My Dad too.