Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Taryne Imai
Nov 19, 2021 Katie Rosenblum
Meet Dr. Taryne Imai! As a thoracic surgeon, she's primarily focused on helping patients fighting cancer in the chest and lungs. She hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, where she studied medicine, before relocating to the mainland 16 years ago for residency and fellowship training.
We sat down with her to learn more about this important job and her life outside of the operating room.
"When it comes to cancer care, it's really important to be collaborative so we can provide our patients with a comprehensive care experience."
What does your job entail?
Dr. Taryne Imai: I'm a thoracic surgeon, and that essentially means that most of my practice is taking care of thoracic oncology patients, especially lung cancer patients. When they present to us with early-stage lung cancer, we can offer surgical treatment to remove part of the lung with the cancer and hopefully cure these patients of their cancer. Beyond surgical treatment, I also provide comprehensive care to our cancer patients, from diagnosis, to staging and surveillance.
Why did you pursue this career?
TI: For me, it’s a personal journey. My grandfather, who I was very close with growing up, passed away from lung cancer when I was in high school. That was an impactful event in my life that led me to pursue medicine. I later learned that only 20% of patients detect their lung cancer at an early stage and felt that there was real opportunity to improve that statistic. I chose thoracic surgery because I wanted to be a part of meaningful change in the fight against lung cancer. By the time my grandfather was diagnosed, he already had stage 4 lung cancer and I remember having this feeling of being unable to do anything. Now, I’ve made it my mission to improve access to lung cancer screening, explore methods of early detection and expedite cancer care.
What do you love most about your job?
TI: What I love most is the people that I get to work with. Cedars-Sinai is very diverse and dynamic. I have the privilege of working with amazing physicians and interdisciplinary teams who are dedicated to patients. When it comes to cancer care, it's really important to be collaborative so we can provide our patients with a comprehensive care experience. It’s not about a patient having many individual doctors working independently, but more like having a team of doctors who are all aligned to achieve the same goals. Cedars-Sinai has developed a culture where that is the model and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.
What was it like growing up in Hawaii?
TI: It was a great place to be raised. The culture in Hawaii is very much about family and extending a helping hand to everyone. That’s part of island life and treating everyone like family is a core value that gets passed on through the generations. I try to bring that into my practice. I'm not just talking to people based on their diagnosis, but also getting to know them as a person.
As surgeons, we really need to develop a bond with patients because they need to be able to trust us. Delivering care to my patients, as if they were family is important to me and the way I’ve always wanted to practice medicine and that comes from how I was brought up in the islands.
What surprised you most about living in Los Angeles?
TI: How far things are and how long it can take to get from point A to point B! That was a huge adjustment for me because when you live on an island, you can practically get anywhere you need to go in 20 minutes.
Also learning directions using east, west, north and south was something I had to learn and am still getting used to. In Hawaii, direction is described by mauka which means mountain, or makai which means ocean. I’ve taken many wrong offramps in the vast freeway network of Los Angeles!
"Not only are we using robotic technology for lung cancer resection and surgery, but also robotic technology is helping us diagnose lung cancers and lung nodules earlier."
What are you listening to in the operating room?
TI: I go through a variety of things. I like Beyonce, Adele and Pink. A lot of the time, I let my physician assistants pick the music for me. They always pick great music.
Is there anything about the current field of lung cancer that gets you excited for the future?
TI: There are many things to be excited about in thoracic surgery. I think one of the most exciting things about lung cancer surgery right now is the evolution into a robotic surgery and incorporating that into our practices. Not only are we using robotic technology for lung cancer resection and surgery, but also robotic technology is helping us diagnose lung cancers and lung nodules earlier.