Learn more about our Member Spotlight of the month, David Chhieng, MD, from his conversation with Dr. Lourdes Ylagan.
1. How did you first become interested in Cytopathology?
I was a first year resident in Albany Medical Center and a lecture on Pap smear was given by Ed Booth, CT. My first reaction was, am I in the wrong field? I was scared and at the same time intrigued by diagnoses made on a few cells. I explored and read more on it and followed my training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in Surgical Pathology, but I really wanted to do Cytopathology and wanted to stay in Memorial for it. But I didn’t get the fellowship (Dr. Saigo was fellowship director at the time), and I took the position at NYU. The fellowship was on its second year and I was the first accredited fellow. It was established by Dr. Jerry Waisman and the attendings were Fraser Symmans, Jean Marc Cohen, Joan Cangiarella and Grace Yang.
2. What drew you to this profession?
The challenge of making a diagnosis on a few cells was what really drew me to the profession. At the time, it was the fastest, cheapest way to make a diagnosis and it was a bit “futuristic.” FNA became the “new thing” to influence patient management.
3. What do you think are the top three most rewarding attributes for being a Cytopathologist member of the ASC?
I would say the top three would be:
(1) Interaction with people of similar interests that uses the scientific method to contribute to patient care,
(2) Camaraderie and exposure to the leaders in our field, and
(3) Networking and friendships that’s developed over the years.
4. What do you value most about your membership to the ASC?
Belonging to a family that shares a common goal and interest. I feel that I always have someone to turn to for a problem, so I feel obligated to contribute back to the society.
5. Why do you think fellows and residents should join the ASC as soon as they become interested in the profession?
There are a lot of great people to meet in Cytology more experienced than a young resident or fellow. It will provide them with the opportunity to present their work as a young resident, fellow and then young attending. For junior attendings, it is a great way to create collaborations with people to come up with such seminal work as The Bethesda System of Reporting. As you become more experienced in the field, you will have a better understanding of the education, regulatory bodies, administration of a laboratory, and how your field fits in the bigger picture of health care. Interactions with people from other institutions helped me better understand how things are done elsewhere.
6. What has been your most memorable experience as a Cytopathologist?
I was in my first year as an attending at UAB and I made my first mistake. I missed a positive urine and it showed up in our cytology/histology correlation conference. My first reaction was that they will fire me. I was so afraid that I couldn’t sleep for a week. The sky is falling and it’s the end of the world! So I called Joan Cangiarella, MD, and she reassured me that it happens, and it will not be the last time it will happen. She was very reassuring and kind.
7. Who do you feel helped you in your career the most? Is that person a Cytopathologist? What have they done for you, for which without it, you couldn’t see yourself where you are today?
(1) Jeffrey Ross, MD, Chair of Albany Medical Center. He was the first person to believe in me. He gave me a spot in a residency program for which I had no experience, my background was medicine and he took a chance on me.
(2) Joan Cangiarella, MD, NYU Vice Chair of Pathology. Back then Joan was a new attending and I was the fellow. I am a non-native English speaker, and the first time I submitted a manuscript on my own in Cancer Cytopathology, it got rejected. I was devastated. So I looked to Joan to edit our papers. Joan was a very good editor and was very patient with me and my English grammar, in particular. She helped me write better. Within that period of time we wrote ~20 papers together.
(3) Jean Marc Cohen, MD, Attending Beth Israel, New York City. He was a young attending at the time and became a good friend. He gave me free reign of whatever project I came up with. The best thing he said was, “You have an idea, go ahead and do it.” At the time, there was no HIPAA, IRB that needed attending support. He gave me freedom, trust and support.