Member of the Month
Cynthia Chen-Joea, MD
Cynthia Chen-Joea, DO is a graduate of Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona campus, and currently a third-year resident at the Long Beach Memorial Family Medicine Program. She is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of CAFP and serves as Resident Co-Chair on the CAFP Board of Directors. One of her special passions is food security. Prior to medical school, Dr. Chen-Joea worked at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities in Philadelphia while completing her Master’s in Public Health. She is currently working on a project addressing food insecurity at her residency program as part of the newly developed Health Policy concentration.
Why did you choose family medicine, and what’s your favorite aspect of it?
I love that family medicine continuously provides challenges without being remotely boring! Initially, I chose family medicine because I was undecided on one specific specialty, torn between OB, internal medicine and pediatrics. In family medicine, I don’t have to choose and am able to see patients from every background, age and ethnicity. There’s never a dull moment, and I’m always learning!
Were you inspired by anyone to pursue family medicine?
I am constantly inspired by physicians who work tirelessly to provide the best possible care and advocate on behalf of their patients’ health. Compassion, understanding and advocacy are essential to challenging the norm and providing a higher standard of health care.
What is the most interesting/memorable experience you have had when dealing with a patient?
It transpired on my first call night as a brand-new intern. I was called to the ED to evaluate a family medicine patient who had sustained a mechanical fall with a resulting laceration on her arm. Her workup including her lab work, and imaging was negative, so all that remained was to repair her laceration and coordinate her outpatient follow-up care. With experience from medical school, I repaired the laceration without much supervision, and took my time to make it aesthetically pleasing. I discharged her from the ED with close follow-up. At discharge, the patient thanked me for the wonderful and thorough care she had received and commented on my excellent bedside manner when compared with other physicians she had encountered. I was thrilled that I offered her that experience, and also was proud that I handled the situation on my own as an intern. That was an enlightening moment that I was actually a “real physician!”
What one word or phrase characterizes your style of family medicine?
What is the best experience you have had during your career as a family physician so far?
One of my rotations allowed me to practice performing minor surgical procedures, which I thoroughly love and enjoy. One day we had a patient who came in for recurrent infections, requiring multiple I & Ds followed by multiple courses of antibiotics treatment. Using point of care ultrasound in the clinic, we confirmed a fistula and performed a fistulotomy. It was just the greatest feeling to figure out the reason behind the repeated infections and provide a lasting solution for the patient. To me, that defines family medicine – someone able to offer a whole spectrum of care.
It is important for me to be a member of CAFP and AAFP because:
I believe that supporting and advocating on behalf of our patients in order to change health policy is one of the most impactful things that can be done to improve the health of many. Being a member of CAFP and AAFP lets me take a more active role in that process, so that I can provide a voice for people who may not otherwise be able to do so.
The most important resource I find CAFP offers me is:
A sense of belonging and a collective voice.
What has been your best experience as a CAFP member? Why?
My best experience with CAFP has been attending the strategic planning meeting with my co-chair and the rest of CAFP Board members. The retreat offered me a look inside the Board, which is just absolutely amazing. Members are filled with love and understanding for one another and their patients, and have an undying sense of advocacy for social justice. The weekend was invigorating and renewed my passion for health policy, public health and advocacy. Knowing that there are so many people out there who felt the same way I do gave me a true sense of family, peace and confirmation that things will turn out ok if we keep fighting for what is right.
How do you make a difference in family medicine and in your community?
My primary focus is on improving the standard of care for the patients in the community. I’ve recognized that with the population I serve, the basic necessities of food and shelter are often overlooked and unseen. Mental and physical wellbeing come second in these circumstances, which is a huge barrier to promoting the patient’s health. I always try to take the time to listen to what the patient is worried about and hear those last minute “and also” topics as I am wrapping up the clinic visit. I find that these are usually the times the patient is trying to express something that makes them feel most vulnerable, and when homelessness and food insecurity surprisingly may be revealed.
Tell us about a project you are involved in and why it is important to you:
I am currently working on a project addressing food insecurity at my residency program at Long Beach Memorial as part of the newly-developed Health Policy concentration. We started screening patients for food insecurity at the beginning of the year and have found a much higher rate of food insecurity among our patients compared with state and national averages. Positively screened patients then have the opportunity to meet with our clinic social worker to assist with signing up for CalFresh or other resources for which they may qualify and are provided with a comprehensive list of food resources in the area, when requested. Considering the high rate of food insecurity in our clinic, and multiple co-morbidities of our patients that contribute to ambulation/transportation difficulties as well as challenging family dynamics, having an on-site food pantry may be a helpful one-stop-shop for patients. I am working on starting a food pantry in our clinic, hopefully within the next few months. I plan to advocate on this issue to state and national representatives in Long Beach, as well as the local government and hospital administration.
What are good qualities a family physician should have?
Passion, empathy, perceptiveness, inquisitiveness understanding.
Do you remember your personal statement for medical school? If so, would you like to share an excerpt?
What a trip down memory lane! Prior to medical school, I worked at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities in Philadelphia while completing my Master’s in Public Health. “…a common spark I saw in all the families [that I had worked with who were food insecure] was their unrelenting and admirable determination to offer everything they could in order to provide for their children. I found that I was constantly learning from these families every day and their determination is something I have taken to heart ...”
What one sentence of advice would you give to medical students interested in family medicine?
Keep an open mind; it’s amazing how much you can learn from your patients!
How do you spend your free time?
As a resident, mostly sleeping whenever I get a chance! I also love TV, reading, hiking, cooking, traveling, exploring new, delicious restaurants and going to a multitude of food and music festivals around the city. There’s never a dull moment in Long Beach!
If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing with your career?
I enjoy artistic ventures; perhaps interior design or being a pianist in another lifetime!
What would your best friend say about you?
She’s my Prader – Willi food soulmate (because we are foodies who eat a lot and love the same types of foods).
Tell us something fun/unusual about yourself.
I used to be an early care and education teacher, so I have a soft spot for all the kiddos! Also, I have the most brilliant and adorable Cairn Terrier, Murphy. He’s named after Murphy’s Laws as a reflection of my philosophy: plan for the worst but always hope for the best. :)
Tell us briefly about your family:
My parents were born in China and immigrated to Taiwan as young children to escape the impending governmental changes. They got married in their early 20s and immigrated to the US with very little money. My parents worked extremely hard, saved and built a beautiful life from almost nothing. They helped many of our family members, including our nieces and nephews, to immigrate to the US for better education and career opportunities. After sixteen years of marriage, my parents were finally able to conceive and now here I am! I am so incredibly lucky to have the unyielding support of my parents. I wouldn’t be where and who I am today without their hardships, struggles and hope of providing a better future for our family and me!
Each month, CAFP highlights one outstanding California family physician member who lends their voice, time, talent and resources to strengthen the specialty of family medicine and his or her community. The Member of the Month interviews are conducted by CAFP staff. If you choose to share this article, feel free, but give appropriate source and author information. If you would like to share your story or know a family physician colleague who deserves to be recognized for his or her impact or leadership, contact us at (415) 345-8667 or email.