Physician Spotlight: Interview With Lea Ann Chen, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine and gastroenterologist at New York University School of Medicine

Oct 06, 2020 · Doximity Blog

The Physician Spotlight is an interview series highlighting prominent members of the Doximity network. Each interview sheds light on the unique challenges physicians face in medicine today and how Doximity’s tools and technology are helping doctors solve these issues. This week, we interviewed Dr. Lea Ann Chen, Assistant Professor of Medicine and gastroenterologist at New York University School of Medicine.

Q: How did you find out about Doximity and why did you decide to sign up as a member?
A: I don’t actually recall anymore. I’ve been a member of Doximity for so long now I don’t really remember. But I’m sure I came across it by looking up new ways to connect with my physician colleagues. I ended up downloading the app, started using the other features, and pretty much use it everyday.

Q: What features do you use the most?
A: I read through the newsfeed to keep up with what my peers and learn what they think about certain issues or research. The newsfeed curates everything I need to see for my specialty, so it’s actually really helpful in terms of helping me stay up to date.

Q: Do you receive any of Doximity’s News Digests?
A: Yes! I receive the Gastro Digest weekly, and it has been really helpful. It’s a way for me to read up on the news specific to gastro as well as some of the important research that’s come out recently. Prior to Doximity, I would have to look through journal articles, skim through the table of content, and try to find articles that were most related to my focus. The Doximity Digest has been really helpful to streamline the news I need to read.

Q: Why did you decide and pursue a career in medicine, specifically gastroenterology?
A: I wanted to pursue a career in medicine because I really enjoy the scientific aspects of the field, but also the personal relationships you can develop with a patient. A career in medicine was a great way to combine both my scientific academic interests as well as my interest in interacting with others on a more personal level.

The reason I chose to specialize in gastroenterology is because I find it to be the most fun. It’s a field where you can see a variety of different types of patients. There’s a procedural aspect to it as well. And there’s the ability to provide longitudinal care – so you really get to know your patients and take care of them over the course of their lifetime.

Q: You are an assistant professor at NYU, which recently made headlines for offering tuition- free medical school. That must be really incredible to be a part of such a point in history and to be part of this organization. Can you share your thoughts on free medical tuition and the hopes for the future generation of doctors?
A: I’m really excited and proud that NYU has decided to offer tuition-free medical school because the cost of receiving a medical education can be very high, and it can sometimes alter or limit one’s choices when deciding which type of medicine to pursue. Hopefully, this will allow individuals to have a career that they’re really passionate about and pick the type of medicine that they would prefer to practice without having to think about those financial barriers.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face day to day as a gastroenterologist?
A: One of the biggest challenges that I face as a practicing gastroenterologist at Bellevue Hospital, which is a public hospital, is that there are a lot of patients we care for who are underserved and have many different challenges in their lives besides the illnesses that they have to deal with.

Part of the challenge, particularly in my field of inflammatory bowel disease, is that these medical conditions are chronic. They can be very severe and really impact quality of life and even ability to work. It's a particular challenge for individuals when they have difficulties with financial resources combined with poor medical coverage.

Q: Can you explain what gut microbiome is and why it is crucial for our health?
A: The gut microbiome is the community of microbes-bacteria, virus, fungi- that live within your intestines. There’s growing research that shows this microbial community plays a very important role in developing your immune system and keeping you healthy. And so, when there are changes or disruptions in the microbiome, it can be associated with or lead to disease.

Q: What are some simple ways to manage overall gut health?

A: Good ways to manage gut health include eating a healthy diet and actually trying to avoid unnecessary medications such as antibiotics. Of course, antibiotics are incredibly important when you need them, but they aren’t good for things like viral infections. And so, it’s important to be cognizant of not using them unnecessarily.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: As a physician scientist, one of the things I love is that I have that ability to partake in patient care but also take on challenges or questions from that clinical scenario and try to answer some of them in the laboratory. I really enjoy the science, the academics, and being able to work on moving the field forward, but then, also taking that information and bringing it to the clinic as well.

Q: I’d love to talk about some exciting projects that you are working on. On your Doximity profile, you share lots of interesting research that you’ve been involved in. Anything new or recent that you’re working on that you can share with us?
A: My clinical focus is on inflammatory bowel disease. But, on the research side, I study the disease because, despite its growing incidence and prevalence worldwide, it’s a disease that we don’t understand the cause of. It’s incredibly important in terms of directing future therapy development and just in clinical management to understand what the underlying cause of the disease is.

My work has been focused on studying the longitudinal microbiome dynamics and understanding how that might play a role in disease development. More recently, along with collaborators, we have been trying to understand the microbiome in conjunction with one’s personal genetic risk for the disease.

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