City of Hope is expanding its Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolismand is proud to receive the endocrinologist Dr Karen Tsaihis team, and not just because he handed out the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the 2020 awards. (Read on for that story.)
In addition to increasing the number of endocrinologists at City of Hope, the expansion also heralds another significant change: At the South Pasadena clinical network location, endocrinology care will no longer be restricted to cancer patients, but will also be available to the public.
“We look forward to serving the South Pasadena community by meeting their endocrinology care needs while advancing the cutting edge of clinical research for diabetes and endocrinology,” said the department chair. Ping Wang, MD, who spearheaded the expansion. “We are excited to offer patients in this region new opportunities to participate in cutting-edge clinical trials for diabetes and endocrine tumors.”
One of the reasons for this significant change is that there is a greater need for endocrinologists than ever before. Tsai, who has published articles on the distribution of health care, explained what is generating this increase in demand.
“The need for more endocrinologists is due in part to our increased life expectancy,” he said. “As a result of living longer, more patients develop endocrine disorders such as diabetes and osteoporosis.”
Also, some of the newer targeted immunotherapies, which have been so successful in treating and curing cancer, can sometimes affect the endocrine system.
“These cancer treatments have made a huge difference in terms of life expectancy, morbidity and mortality,” he said. “But there are thyroid disorders that can arise from cancer therapies, like immune checkpoint inhibitors and tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and this is my particular focus.”
The expansion is also allowing area obstetricians and gynecologists to refer people with polycystic ovary syndrome, conditions related to fertility treatments, and gestational diabetes, a condition in which, during pregnancy, the body cannot produce enough insulin.
Fostering long-term relationships between patient and doctor
One aspect of healthcare that is important to Tsai is the relationship she develops with her patients.
Her interest in medicine began when, as a child, she underwent open heart surgery to repair an atrial septal defect, a hole in the wall of the heart. She became fascinated by science and medicine and at first she thought that she would become a pharmacist, like her mother. But in college, she realized that she really didn’t suit him.
He wanted a career that allowed him to be personally involved with the people he helped. She decided to become a doctor, and that human connection is also why she chose endocrinology.
“Diabetes, osteoporosis, thyroid disorders – these are medical conditions that are sometimes lifelong,” he said. “And there was a moment where the light went on for me when I saw how rewarding it would be to have this kind of personal, long-term relationship with patients that can deepen over a long period of time.”
An area of particular interest to Tsai is thyroid conditions, and City of Hope is excited to work with its remarkable interdisciplinary team of healthcare providers to take on even the most challenging and unusual cases.
Going above and beyond
Tsai sees patients three days a week at the main campus in Duarte and once a week in South Pasadena. But even if she’s never had a sick day in her life, she’s probably already seen her, at the 2020 Emmy Awards.
To honor her for her volunteer work at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her brother, Kevin Tsai, MD, were asked to present that year’s award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
It was the year that COVID-19 first appeared and there was a dangerous shortage of personal protective equipment for medical staff. Tsai, then in his internal medicine residency, saw firsthand how dire the situation was and decided to do something about it.
He created a non-profit company, DonatePPE.orgwhich distributed more than 4.5 million masks across the country, all while working the grueling hours of a resident doctor.
And that’s not all he did to help during those tough times. Seeing the anguish the pandemic was causing children, she consulted on a children’s book, “Monster Dance,” written to ease her fears.
This can-do approach is also what gave him, as a teenager, the opportunity to work in a lab at Loma Linda University. He was still in high school, so he might think the job consisted mainly of washing test tubes. But not. He was performing gel electrophoresis, a process that separates DNA, RNA and protein molecules, and creating mutated DNA compounds for the researchers.
Quite unusual achievements, but if you suggest that there is something special about her, she will sincerely insist that she is the most ordinary person. “It’s just that if there’s something that needs to be done, I can’t sit still. I have to do it.”
The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Tsai was born and raised in Arcadia, California, but is fluent in Mandarin. She is thrilled to be serving the San Gabriel community where she grew up, and she not only has a new job but also a new son, only 6 months old.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but I can assure you that I am super blessed,” she said. “I am hopeful for what the future of medicine holds and the difference I can make for patients at City of Hope.”