Hospitalist founded nonprofit for Bolivian street children

Nine months spent in South America after medical school leads to a lifelong commitment to service.

Chi-Cheng Huang, ACP Member

Occupation: Chairperson, Department of Hospital Medicine, Lahey Clinic Medical Center, Burlington, Mass.

Chi-Cheng Huang ACP Member
Chi-Cheng Huang, ACP Member.

Age: 39.

Current residence: Lincoln, Mass.

Hometown: College Station, Texas.

Family: Married with three daughters.

Medical school: Harvard Medical School.

Residency: Harvard Combined Internal Medicine/ Pediatrics Residency Program.

Specialty: Hospital medicine in internal medicine. I still moonlight sometimes in pediatrics at a walk-in clinic in East Boston.

Something I wish I'd learned in medical school: The interpersonal bedside management skills with patients and families that are required to be a caring physician. You might be the most intelligent physician in the world and not be able to get to “yes” to take care of a patient's needs, without these skills.

First job: In high school, I worked in a lab at Texas A&M University cleaning Erlenmeyer flasks.

I became a hospitalist because: I like to take care of patients when they are at one of their most vulnerable times. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing patients who come in sick and really not feeling well, and then, seeing them improve and become healthy once again.

Most rewarding aspect of my job: I love working in a multidisciplinary manner with nursing and physician colleagues to create systems or hospital operations that are able to deliver high-quality, cost-effective, efficient and patient-centered care. I try to listen to different folks to see what their challenges are. Often it's a structural issue we can solve if we work together.

Most meaningful professional accomplishment: I've received a few teaching awards, from Harvard Medical School, the department of pediatrics at Boston University Medical School, and the internal medicine residency program here at Lahey Clinic Medical Center. If I can be an effective teacher then I'm not taking care of 1,000 patients, but tens of thousands, by helping others become better physicians.

On being a physician: Often we forget how much of a privilege it is to care for people during their vulnerable time. It's one of the few professions where you can go anywhere around the world and give something away that's needed, for free.

Future goals: I'd love to continue leading and assisting groups of physicians, and help manage hospital operations and health care systems from a structural and operational standpoint.

Hardest medical lesson learned: Just because you are competent and caring, doesn't mean you have the management or leadership skills to lead groups.

Career advice for hospitalists coming out of residency: Listen first, be humble, and talk last.

Personal heroes: My mother, because she sacrificed her life to be a caregiver for my sisters and me. And my father, who is the most patient teacher I ever met, because he had to deal with me.

Pet peeves: I have a hard time when health care professionals don't put patient well-being as their first priority.

Favorite ways to spend free time: I love seeing my daughters enjoy life, whether they are coloring or dancing or riding bicycles. And I love going out with my wife on a date night without the kids, which we do every week.

Favorite authors: Henry Nouwen and Thomas Merton.

Book on my night stand:The Center That Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks. It is about a mental health lawyer and professor talking about her life as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Most meaningful non-medical accomplishment: Being a husband and father, and then the nonprofit organization I founded, Kaya Children International, which helps assist Bolivian street children.

How I came to get involved with Bolivian children: After medical school I took a year off to find myself, and I spent about nine months in South America, including La Paz, Bolivia, to help address the issues of street children. Now, 13 years later, we have a board and people all over the world, including one full-time staff member in Bolivia and one in Boston. …Usually, my whole family goes down there in the summer and spends a month or six weeks there, though we won't be going this year.

If I weren't a physician, I would be: A writer. Although I am a poor writer, I like the whole idea of putting pen to paper and allowing those who haven't gone through an experience to understand it.