Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Dr. Alan Kwan
Oct 04, 2021 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Meet Dr. Alan Kwan, a cardiologist and cardiac imaging researcher at Cedars-Sinai. He attended medical school at the University of Washington School of Medicine, with a research fellowship year at the National Institutes of Health.
After an internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he received advanced cardiac imaging and research training at Cedars-Sinai under the mentorship of Dr. Daniel Berman, Dr. Debiao Li and Dr. Susan Cheng.
When he’s not in the clinic or poring over MRIs and CTs, you can find him at home cooking for his wife or caring for their newborn son—or in a studio training in Brazilian Jiu jitsu. "I'm currently a brown belt and am hoping to make it to black belt sometime in the next decade!" he says.
Dr. Kwan shared with us why storytelling is important in medicine and what connects him to Cedars-Sinai's long and distinguished cardiology legacy (hint: it's … glassware).
"If you want to help people, either through direct medical care or through research, you have to connect with people—with patients, with other providers and with other researchers."
Why did you decide to specialize in cardiac imaging?
Dr. Alan Kwan: I'd always been interested in technology. During medical school, I found that taking care of patients resonated strongly with me, but I was also fascinated by research in imaging.
I had the opportunity to do a fellowship at the NIH with a phenomenal mentor who convinced me that cardiac imaging was the field that suited me the best. Cardiology offered the chance to work in imaging while also directly caring for patients. Since then, I've been hooked!
What has been the most exciting or surprising part of your work so far?
AK: The journey has been full of surprises about what medicine is, and what it means to be a doctor and a physician-scientist. The thing that I love most about my work is that I have the opportunity to save people's lives by telling stories.
If you want to help people, either through direct medical care or through research, you have to connect with people— with patients, with other providers and with other researchers. And the best way to do this is to tell a compelling story.
The story can be about how the patient arrived at your door and went from someone who thought of themselves as healthy to someone who needs medical intervention. Or it can be the story of a disease process in a population within a research context. In order to convey the information, the story is always critical. And if you get the story right, you can really make a difference.
What do people get wrong about your work?
AK: There's never a time when you finish "becoming a doctor." Being a physician and a researcher is a lifetime of learning, both from our patients and through reading, not just to be excellent in our fields, but to keep up with changes in medicine. There have already been multiple new and very relevant diagnostic tests and medications that have come out since I started medical school!
What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten?
AK: An internal medicine physician I trained under in medical school had a big influence in my decision to go into internal medicine and then cardiology. When I asked him how to become a good doctor, he advised me to "be at the bedside."
While my path in imaging and research may seem to conflict with this, the meaning behind his message is deeply relevant: showing up is important. Showing up for your patients, showing up for your colleagues and showing up in your life outside of medicine as well.
We inspire and care for each other best when we interact directly, and I draw much of my inspiration for research and my thoughts about imaging from my time at the bedside.
What scientific or medical question most interests you outside of your own field?
AK: I think the biggest question, which affects our entire field, is "What should medicine and medical care look like?" There are so many amazing developments in medicine, but when we talk with patients, they often express frustration and confusion with the process of accessing care, and understanding medical information so they can be effective advocates for their own health.
This gets to not only how we deliver care, but also how we train physicians and communicate with/educate patients in a broader space. It's a huge issue with implications on how effective we can be as scientists, physicians and representatives of healthcare.
Did your family shape your career choice?
AK: My parents greatly shaped my career choice. When I was a child, my mom told me about her first job back in the 1970s, which was at Cedars-Sinai in the cardiology department under Dr. Jeremy Swan.
She and my dad still have glassware that Dr. Swan and Dr. William Ganz—legendary researchers who developed a cardiac device that is still used today—gave them as a wedding present. It's been an amazing pleasure to come back around to where my mom started her career, to join a powerhouse cardiology department and, hopefully, write my own story here.