Chicago, Trading His Crayons for Craniums
Boy, 12, has begun studies for his medical degree.
Baltimore Sun, August 19, 2003
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Sho Yano's mother hands him his lunch for school in a brown
paper bag - a turkey sandwich and cookies included. "You
don't need any bones today? No bones?" Kyung Yano asks her
quiet, spectacle-wearing 12-year-old, who shakes his head "no"
as they head out their apartment door. She wants to make sure he
isn't supposed to take his samples of spinal bones and a human
skull to class, where he's learning about human anatomy.
It's the kind of morning many young students and their parents
experience - except for one thing. Sho isn't in junior high.
He's a first-year medical school student at the University of
Chicago, where he's the youngest ever to attend one of the
university's professional schools.
If he weren't also getting his doctorate along with his medical
degree - thus, pushing his age at graduation to 19 or 20 - he'd
also be on course to become the youngest person to graduate from
any medical school. According to the Guinness list of world
records, a 17-year-old graduated from medical school in New York
But Sho is utterly uninterested in setting records. He also
shuns the labels often used to describe him - "prodigy" and
"little genius" among them.
Yes, he has an IQ higher than 200. And, yes, he graduated in
three years from Chicago's Loyola University, summa cum laude.
But for him, going to school is about learning as much as he
"And there's a lot of stuff to know," he says as he thumbs
through one of his extra-thick medical books.
While many children his age have been spending their summers at
camp or the beach, Sho has been dissecting a human cadaver and
learning the intricacies of the 12 cranial nerves. And, having
scored A's on his first few quizzes, he's handling the course
work better than some who are a decade or more older than he is.
Some of his classmates were wary at first. That included Luka
Pocivavsek, a 22-year-old medical student who shared a room with
his young classmate at a retreat for new students in the
At first, he thought Sho - who often pauses to ponder questions
before answering and chooses his words carefully - was very
quiet. He wondered how such a young student could handle the
emotional and social rigors of being a doctor.
But Sho quickly won him over.
"He has surpassed my expectations in every imaginable way,"
Pocivavsek says. "His initial shyness has given way to a very
sociable guy. And his understanding of complex social and
political issues is very keen and observant."
In some ways, Sho is still a typical 12-year-old. He has a pet
rabbit and sometimes squabbles with his little sister, Sayuri.
And while he's not a fan of Harry Potter, he adores books by
best-selling children's author Brian Jacques.
At school, he's more of the little brother figure. His
classmates tease him, for instance, about finding a girlfriend.
But they also go out of their way to include him, often
socializing in their homes instead of bars - or choosing movies
to watch that are rated no higher than PG.
The medical school also has adjusted Sho's schedule a bit,
delaying his clinical work with patients for his last two years
in the program.
Still, pathology professor Tony Montag says he sometimes forgets
that Sho is younger than his classmates.
"Of course, to me, they're all kids. So he doesn't seem
particularly different than any of the students," says Montag,
who teaches Sho and other first-year students about microscopic
tissues in their histology class.
Born in Portland, Ore., Sho spent most of his early years in
California, where is father, Katsura, now runs the American
subsidiary of a Japanese shipping company. Sho lives in the
university's family housing with his mother, who came to this
country from Korea to study art history, and 7-year-old Sayuri,
who wants to be a cardiologist.
From early on, his mother says, it was apparent that Sho was
gifted. She recalls trying to master a waltz by Chopin on the
piano while 3-year-old Sho played with toy trains below her.
Frustrated, she went to the kitchen to take a break - and a few
moments later, hurried back in amazement as she heard Sho
playing the piece.
His mother says it's difficult to explain what having a child
such as Sho has been like. But she and her husband were always
clear. "He will decide his own life, what he wants to do," she
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