Dr. Gus Zhang: North Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians Award for Outstanding Medical Student in Psychiatry

By Donna Steph Hansard

Dr. Gus Zhang didn’t plan to specialize in psychiatry. As a native of China, he never seriously considered it until he entered medical school. “There’s a lot of stigma and misunderstanding about mental illness, especially in some Asian cultures,” Dr. Zhang said. “Some of the attitudes I encountered while growing up include ideas such as only the ‘weak’ succumb to mental illness, that major depression is something you can ‘think’ your way out of, or that suicide is OK in cases of shame or dishonor.”

Dr. Gus Zhang
Dr. Gus Zhang

Dr. Zhang is the 2012 recipient of the North Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians Award for Outstanding Medical Student in Psychiatry.

“Psychiatry was my first clinical rotation of third year because I thought I’d get it out of the way first,” said Dr. Zhang, who will serve his residency at UT Southwestern beginning in July. “I ended up really enjoying the rotation in the Parkland psych ER and on the Parkland inpatient unit, and met some really memorable people. Psych patients can be very complex, but getting to know them well is very rewarding.”

A graduate of the California Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in biology, Dr. Zhang’s parents also worked in health care. His father was a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon in Beijing, and his mother studied acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. The family immigrated to the United States in 1997, when his father accepted a position in a cardiology research lab at UT Southwestern.

The younger Dr. Zhang remembers it “was a tough transition to make in seventh grade because of the cultural and language barriers.” He eventually graduated from Highland Park High School.

“While at Caltech, I volunteered at the nearby hospital and shadowed physicians in various departments,” Dr. Zhang said. “I also did a lot of basic research, both as part of my degree requirement, as well as elective summer fellowships. Basic research is fascinating and tremendously important, but I found that I enjoyed my time at the hospital more. There’s something really satisfying about talking to patients and getting to know them.”

Dr. Zhang returned to Dallas and UT Southwestern for medical school to be “closer to family again.”

During his fourth-year rotation, he spent more time in the Department of Psychiatry, particularly with Dr. Carol North, Professor of Psychiatry. Dr. North is internationally known for her research on post-traumatic stress disorder and has been integrally involved in numerous U.S. and international disaster-relief efforts.

“I worked with Dr. North on a project about psychopathology in the aftermath of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi,” Dr. Zhang said. “She was a great mentor, and the project was really eye-opening because I learned things ... that we don’t usually think about as medical students.”

Dr. Anne Marie Brancaccio, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, said she has never met someone more suited to be a physician.

“Gus is one of the most intelligent and kind-hearted people I have encountered in my career,” she said. “When I asked him why he had chosen psychiatry for his career, he responded that he really thinks that he can make a difference in people’s lives.”

Dr. North speaks highly of him, too.

“His enthusiasm and quiet dedication to his work are inspiring to those around him,” she said. “I expect him to continue with the work he started as a resident in our program, and he will no doubt blossom further in his achievements.”


Dr. North holds the Nancy and Ray L. Hunt Chair in Crisis Psychiatry.