Discovering Quality of Life at CPMG

Dr. Heidi Chang
Chief of Internal Medicine

Growing up with her mother’s dental practice attached to their family home, Dr. Heidi Chang had an appreciation for the special relationship that exists between a physician and their patients. A self-described people-person with a love for science, she knew from a fairly young age that she wanted to go into medicine – though maybe not the family business. Now Chief of Internal Medicine, Chang has grown a practice of her own at Kaiser Permanente’s Lakewood Medical Offices.

“I think my mom wanted me to take over her practice, but the mouth just seemed too small. I liked working with a bigger picture. There’s a lot that goes into Internal Medicine. You’re not just looking at the patient in front of you; you’re looking at their environment, their families, their values, and other outside factors that could be influencing their care. It’s a good melding of science and my personable nature.”

Chang discovered her interest in geriatrics and chronic disease management, something that comes naturally with an aging population, while accompanying her mother on dentist check-ups at nursing homes. There she would spend her time with the residents, growing an appreciation for the role that quality of life plays in determining appropriate medical treatments.

“I’ve always liked the elderly – even since I was a kid. I think at least part of that is cultural. I’m half Chinese, and in that culture, the older you are, the more respected you are. They’re valued. So while my mom was off doing teeth [at a nursing home], I was just hanging out with the older folks.”

“Oftentimes, I think we, as medical professionals, kind of dictate the terms of care. But you can’t do that when caring for the elderly because sometimes it just isn’t congruent with your patient’s values and goals. So I think it’s my honor and privilege as a physician and geriatrician to educate patients and their families on the pros and cons of different interventions as they relate to their personal health goals. For instance, a lot of people as they get older, don’t want to have to keep going back to the hospital whenever they get sick. So, as their physician, we can talk through their options and, if desired, adjust their health goals to place comfort over immediacy of care.”

“What you consider ‘quality of life’ differs from person to person, so you have to ask patients what that looks like for them and make sure the care we’re delivering supports that.”

Although Chang never saw herself taking on a leadership role, she’s happy for the support from CPMG that has helped her grow into her role as department chief and develop as a leader.

“I think CPMG really invests in their people. Through leadership groups and co-mentoring groups, they do a lot to support their people and help them grow. It was never one of my career aspirations to be the sort of servant-leader that I am in my chief role, but there’s so much support for people like me to help them take that next step. Appreciating the unique strengths and interests each person brings to the table is very much part of the CPMG culture.”

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