Spirit of Giving Motivates Recipient
By Andrew P. Peck, American Osteopathic Association
Dr. John V. Chang, DO, MSc, FACEP, FAAUCM, former board member of the Massachusetts Osteopathic Society has traveled over terrain so challenging that most people would have turned back long ago. But Chang has overcome mountainous obstacles and used each as motivation to give to those in dire need.
Chang, who was awarded The Pioneer Medal by his alma mater, University of New England’s School of Osteopathic Medicine (see video below) on May 21, 2016, has been congratulated by numerous colleagues who have benefited from his caring and grateful nature.
Chang was born in China, shortly after the country’s long war with Japan had ended. The exit of Japanese occupiers spawned a period of brief joy in eastern China. Soon after came the Communist revolution, which prompted Chang’s family to move to the Island of Java in Indonesia. Chang’s father, Rev. Dr. Lit-sen Chang, an attorney, author and theologian, who Chang says inspired him to pursue his career in medicine, predicted the political and economic turmoil in 1950s Indonesia.
So at age 10, Chang was on the move with his family again. This time, along with his parents and twin sisters, Chang traveled by sea to the United States of America. A cargo boat carrying rubber to numerous ports was the most affordable option for emigration, so after three arduous months aboard the ship, Chang arrived in California in 1956.
“I literally arrived in America on a slow boat from China,” Chang joked. “But I never considered my life to be difficult. I had a great time on the ship. I climbed and looked around, going where I wasn’t supposed to go. I always enjoyed life.”
A cross-country train ride to Massachusetts was next. And there Chang’s father began his study of theology at Gordon Divinity School, now called Gordon Conwell Theological School. Chang credits his father’s own religious spirit of giving for inspiring his pursuit of a career in Osteopathic Medicine.
“If he only had one shirt, he would give his shirt to the poor,” Chang said. “That could be the beginning of my desire.”
Early life in China was not particularly easy for the elder Chang.
“My father came from a village where nobody could read or write,” Dr. Chang said. “He told me, at the age of 4 he looked out into a stream that ran out into a field. He said he wanted to follow the stream out of the village and become educated. When he went to elementary school his people laughed at him and asked him why he wanted to read and write.”
Chang told of his father’s vision to continue his education past high school which was also met with local derision, but the family supported his ambition and paid for him to attend college. After much success, he later attended law school at Oxford and studied at Sorbonne in France and University of Hamburg, Germany. At age 26, Dr. Chang’s father returned to China and became dean of a law school. After moving to the United States Rev. Dr. Chang published several books on Chinese Christianity.
But early schooling came with profound difficulty for Dr. Chang who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. He graduated second to last in his high school class. Fortunately a guidance counselor saw in Chang the ability to learn and peform in spite of his disability and wrote a letter to Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. imploring that the young man be given a chance.
He was granted admission and studied biology and chemistry before graduating in 1969. In 1984, he received his Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine from the University of New England and was honored with the Dean’s Award “For possessing those qualities the faculty would seek in their family physician.” The obstacles Chang faced in the classroom never deterred him, he says. In fact, he believes they are a special gift from his creator.
“I prayed about that for years,” Chang said. “I asked God to help me to read and write like a normal person so I could do much more. God never answered me. He said I want you to be just the way you are. If I don’t struggle how can I understand how it feels to be put down.”
Chang credits his beloved wife, Jean, for helping him to compose letters and overcome his dyslexia. During his acceptance speech he thanked her for her constant love and inspiration.
At every stop along his extensive career in medicine, Chang has been credited for helping students achieve their goals and for treating patients in underserved communities.
“If you ask John for the shirt off of his back,” one colleague said, “he’ll give you his shirt and his undershirt.”
Chang served as a staff physician at Ambulatory Health Associates in Lexington, Mass. before becoming a Lab Director and Medical Director of Urgent Care in the Lawrence General Hospital System. In October 2000 he began private practice providing primary and urgent care in Andover, Mass. That practice was transferred to the Salem Family Practice/Urgent Care site in August of 2001, where Chang served as both Medical and Laboratory Director. He now serves as staff physician of emergency medicine at Lawrence General Hospital.
His numerous academic appointments include a professorship in biology and chemistry at Atlanta Baptist College in Moncton, New Brunswick where he also served as dean of students.
Chang currently serves on the board of directors for the American Board of Urgent Care Medicine. He also made a significant impact serving on the board of directors for the New England Osteopathic Association from 2009-15 and on the board of trustees at University of New England from 1999-2008. Chang has been re-appointed to the school’s Board this year.
His influence while working on the board of directors with MOS from 2005-15 is still felt according to current board president Dr. William Foley.
“His passion to support MOS initiatives drove the organization forward for many years,” Foley said. “He often encouraged others to get involved by joining MOS and taking leadership positions. John generously gave his time recruiting, mentoring, and planning ROME meetings. His enthusiasm was contagious, his personality was humble, and his wisdom was invaluable.”
MOS trustee, Dr. Lucette Nadle has worked with Dr. Chang for over a decade and described his lasting impression on the society.
“He is a truly humble person and you don’t find too many highly accomplished people who are that way,” Nadle said. “It’s inspiring. You always feel that if there is a difference of opinion, you can discuss it with him.”
Chang discussed Osteopathic Medicine’s rise in prominence and acceptance throughout the past 30 years and said that through devotion to healing and giving, DOs will be able to emerge rapidly in the years to come.
For DOs and students struggling at any point along their own journey, Chang uses an illustrated analogy:
“My advice is this,” Chang said. “Picture a horse with blinders on the sides of its head. You can only look forward. Anything on either side, you don’t see it. Look forward to the goal that you set, regardless of your inadequacy. Be visionary. You will reach your goal.”