When Weijen William Chang, MD, entered college, he pursued a path he believed would allow him to do the most public good: He majored in journalism.
Before long, he was frustrated.
“I’d gather all of this information and disseminate it and realize the general public could take that information and do something with it, or maybe it wouldn’t,” Dr. Chang says.
Inspired by his father—a family medicine practitioner in Bakersfield, Calif.—he began to consider becoming a physician. Upon graduating from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, he opted for medical school over journalism, and later matched to Duke University’s combined medicine-pediatrics residency program.
“On the plus side, I knew what I was getting into,” says Dr. Chang, an adult hospitalist at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center and pediatric hospitalist across town at Rady Children’s Hospital. “Having watched my father, I knew how difficult medicine was as a lifestyle. Beyond that, I felt by pursuing medicine, I was able not only to acquire information, but also to use it in an effective way for the benefit of at least a small portion of the public.”
Question: What lesson did you learn from your father that made you a better physician?
Answer: His idea that a physician’s priority is the patient sitting in front of him or her. He has a very single-minded emphasis on doing everything a patient needs—and advocating for that patient’s needs—regardless of their ability to pay. He’s one of those people who will drive to the hospital in the middle of the night to see a patient in the emergency room. That devotion really set an example for me.
Q: How did he influence your career path?
A: I really wanted to model myself after my father to some extent. I wanted to be able to treat people of all ages like he does. The things he did were mostly general medicine and pediatrics. That’s what drove me into that residency program. I think both fields complement each other very well.
Q: What led you into HM?
A: I worked in a community health center in a Boston suburb for many years after residency. I found I had the ability to change the health of my patients, but in terms of effectively changing the health of a large number of people, it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds when you interface with community leaders. It required a lot more politics than I preferred to undertake.
Also, the pace of it is not really my style. I think HM is the perfect blend. It’s a fast-paced environment in which I get to see the fruits of my labor almost immediately. From a quality-improvement standpoint, it allows you to directly change the health of the population going into your hospital, which can be a fairly large population.
Q: Do you take a different approach when you’re treating children than when you’re caring for adult patients?
A: You definitely have to have a different approach. In adult medicine, we take a much broader picture of things. In pediatrics, there is a much higher attention to the very fine details of a patient’s case. Very small changes can result in drastic differences in patient outcomes.