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Kimberly Dao: Bound for Medical School

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Kimberly Dao is diligent about sleeping eight or nine hours of each night.

The University of Maine biology major, who will be a senior this fall, knows sufficient shut-eye is important for memory, health, mood and energy level.

It’s also a time to dream.

And Dao, who was accepted at the end of her sophomore year into the Maine Track Early Assurance program of Tufts University School of Medicine, has a long list of goals to accomplish when she’s awake.

Dao, who is from Saco, Maine, is the 11th UMaine scholar accepted into the Maine Track program. She’ll enter Tufts Medical School in fall 2014, several months after she becomes part of the first generation of college graduates in her family.

As a junior, Dao was UMaine student body president and Class of 2014 president. She earned a 3.97 grade-point average in the fall 2012 semester. Earning a 4.0 semester GPA is still on her bucket list.

So too is carving out more time to paint, attend concerts and improvisation shows, and become a better ukulele player. Dao’s days are packed and that’s the way she likes them.

In addition to pre-med classes that start at 8 a.m., labs, government meetings and office hours, she routinely works out at New Balance Recreation Center, plays on a club field hockey team, bicycles, cooks and participates in the Black Bear Mentors Program at Old Town Recreation.

The multitasker often studies while she eats. And she beams when she talks in rapid-fire fashion about the fun she is having, and her goals and plans for the future.

In a January meeting with her adviser, Farahad Dastoor, Dao, who speaks English and Vietnamese, says she wants to learn a third language, possibly French or Spanish.

Dastoor, a lecturer in the School of Biology and Ecology, describes Dao as a modest, genuine, focused, purposeful leader. And organized. “She has amazing time-management skills,” he says.

While achieving excellence appears effortless for the self-described eccentric, Dao says academics weren’t always easy. She says things started to click in school after she fell off a roof as a youngster and had staples put in her head.

“Looking back, that’s when my grades improved,” she laughs.

In 2010, Dao was a top 10 graduate at Thornton Academy, where she also excelled in a slew of sports, clubs and activities.

Dao plans to eventually practice family medicine in Maine, where her parents chose to settle after living in California, Virginia and New Hampshire.

Family medicine, Dao says, combines her love of healing and helping with the ability to have long-term physician-patient relationships.

At an early age, Dao was captivated by medical procedures. She says she was engrossed watching surgeries on medical shows while her peers were mostly just grossed out.

Bonding with others is also important to Dao. In middle school, she volunteered with Special Olympics and at a local nursing home.

Dao says she knew her interest in medicine was a true calling when she got a taste of clinical experience in the emergency room at Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford and when she aided a UMaine friend having a diabetic seizure.

“His roommate pounded on my door,” she recalls.

Dao, who had already become a Certified Nursing Assistant at Biddeford Regional Center of Technology while she was in high school, took charge and injected her friend with glucagon.
She says she felt a surge of excitement and purpose handling the situation and thought, “This is what I’m meant to do.”

Dao will be able to fulfill her calling through the Maine Track curriculum.

Maine Medical Center in Portland partners with Tufts University Medical School to offer the unique program.

Maine Track Early Assurance annually reserves a limited number of seats for sophomores from University of Maine System institutions, Bowdoin, Bates and Colby. The program was established in 2008 — students were first admitted in 2009 — with the hope that a significant number of graduates would go on to practice medicine in Maine.

Dao will attend the bulk of her first two years of instruction at TUSM in Boston. For her third-year clerkship and some of her fourth-year rotations, she’ll gain clinical experience in rural practice, as well as training at a major tertiary medical center in Maine.

Dao says she’s excited about practicing medicine in Maine, and is looking forward to a world of opportunities, including travel.

“I’m interested in a lot of things,” she says. “I appreciate the little things. If I’m ever sad, I give myself five minutes to complain, then I go do something fun.”

In her quest to experience as much as possible, Dao utilizes weekends and vacations to read and study.

And summers. From June to August, Dao expected to take part in Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program sponsored by the University of Virginia. She’ll board the MV Explorer, a 24-000-ton “floating university” in London, England and learn about comparative civilizations while traveling to Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Malta, France, Spain and Portugal before returning to London.

She credits her parents’ work ethic and sacrifice with inspiring her to dream big and make the most of experiences.

Dao appreciates that her parents, Kevin and Mai, toiled six days a week at their small business to support her and her siblings. “My parents worked so hard,” she says. “I recognize I have a great opportunity.”

The George Mitchell Scholar also is grateful that others have financially supported her academic efforts, including her scholarship’s namesake, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

“He’s my role model,” Dao says of the Waterville, Maine native and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. “He is the epitome of the American dream. His support and support of others like him, is why I am here. And I love this place (UMaine). I’m excited to be here.”

One of her goals as student body president is to bring to students’ attention the incredible and varied resources, organizations and opportunities that exist on campus.

And she looks forward in the near future to being able to give a financial boost to other aspiring students.

“I’ll be able to help someone else and help their dreams comes true,” she says. “That’s a big deal to me.”

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