Department of Medicine

Practicing the Art of Medicine

Faculty Spotlight: Ann Chen

Ann Chen, MD, is passionate about gastroenterology.
Ann Chen MDAnn Chen, MD, clinical assistant professor, division of gastroenterology and hepatalogy
Her work in endoscopic ultrasound has improved the quality of life for many people with cancer. Gastroenterology, she said, is way beyond the colonoscopy.  During her three years at Stanford, Chen, clinical assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology has developed the endoscopic ultrasound, pancreatic cancer diagnosis and screening, and esophageal cancer programs. She recently spoke with the Department of Medicine about her background, and what inspires her to practice medicine.

Q: Where did you grow up and do your training?

Ann Chen: I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States with my family when I was nine years old.  My uncle is an anesthesiologist, so medicine has always been part of my life. I attended college at MIT, went to Albert Einstein medical school and did my residency at California Pacific. I also trained in gastroenterology and advanced interventional endoscopy at UC Irvine with Division Chief Ken Chang, MD, who fostered my interest in GI oncology.  He showed me that medicine is more than a practice; treating the patient is an art.

Q: What led you to focus on gastroenterology?

AC: My father had a lot of gastrointestinal and GI bleeding issues and was frequently in and out of the hospital. He had numerous endoscopies and colonoscopies but doctors never discovered the source of the bleeding.

I enjoy basic science and actually took a year off from medical school to focus on research. During that time I missed the patient interaction.  I wanted be able to make a difference in people’s lives quickly.  Basic science effects people’s lives and changes the practice of medicine dramatically, but the change is slower.

Being at the forefront of patient care, particularly patients affected with cancer is important.  Performing endoscopic ultrasound and biopsies often leads to being the first one to reveal the diagnosis.  There are so many challenges in breaking bad news to young patients, or mothers in front of their children. Yet, it is a time when I can offer the most support and help a family to focus on the positive aspects. This is the part of medicine that I enjoy and couldn’t get from basic science.

Q: What makes Stanford a unique place to practice?

AC: The colleagues and the collegial and collaborative environment make Stanford a special place. There are great basic scientists, oncologists, and extraordinary surgeons, and radiation oncologists. Our tumor board is a multidisciplinary program that reviews each patient’s case. Each case is individualized and provides an opportunity to contribute our different expertise to what is best for the patient.

Q: If you could do anything in the field of medicine what would that be?

AC: My dream would be to eradicate cancer.  It is an awful disease that I absolutely hate. Two years ago my mother was diagnosed with cancer; she has undergone several surgeries and is still not out of the woods.  My grandparents both died from cancer. We’ve made a lot of progress, especially with breast cancer, however more work must be done to find treatments for all types of cancer. I am so grateful for the researchers and pioneers who have done the necessary work to bring treatments and therapies to where they are today.

Q: What would surprise people about the field of gastroenterology?

AC: Gastroenterology is a great field; there are so many interventions that can be done. Many people don’t know about endoscopic ultrasound; they don’t know that we can get biopsies of the lymph nodes and the chest or do minimally invasive biopsies of the pancreas.  And we can remove early tumors and early cancers without any surgeries, no cuts or incisions. Procedures like radio frequency ablation can get rid a patient of a precancerous condition such as Barrett's esophagus. In the old days, people had to have their esophagus removed, which is an awful way to live. Today we can use liquid nitrogen to freeze or burn off precancerous cells. Many people can live normal lives after that.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

AC: Spend time with my kids. They are absolute gifts. There is nothing in the world better than playing with my kids. I also play volleyball and like to travel.

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