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Stars of Stanford Medicine: Improving cardiovascular health in Africa and beyond

Stars of Stanford Medicine: Improving cardiovascular health in Africa and beyond

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As the son of academics, Andrew Chang, MD, an instructor of medicine, moved around a lot as a child. “I think that left me unafraid of new experiences and new environments,” Chang reflected recently.

With a new master’s degree in epidemiology and clinical research, Chang has an ambitious goal, one sure to involve many new experiences and environments:  He hopes to improve cardiovascular health in disadvantaged populations in Africa and elsewhere. I spoke with him recently to learn more.

How long have you been at Stanford?

A long time, since 2008. I came for medical school and stayed for the Design for Extreme Affordability program and for residency. Then, I received funding to do the master’s program. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place so I think that’s telling of how special it is.

How did you get interested in science and medicine?

As an undergrad, I wasn’t sure I’d be a science major — I did a lot of writing, liberal arts and political science and thought I wanted to be a lawyer.

But I was really lucky at Yale to take a seminar with the late surgeon Sherwin Nuland, MD. By focusing on ethics, philosophy and history, we learned how science and medicine are really a reflection of society and our society’s ideas. I became really enamored with this thought.

I then began volunteering at a free clinic and I realized that one patient, who had tuberculosis, was working in the same building where I was doing research. That was eye-opening to me that while we were conducting multi-million dollar research on basic biology, some people in our communities were suffering from diseases we thought were largely eradicated.

What are you working on today?

I’m very interested in cardiovascular disease. Even within global health it is the number one cause of death. We’ve done a good job treating epidemic diseases like malaria, but now many developing countries are being hit with this demographic transition to sedentary lifestyles and poor diets.

With colleagues, I recently looked at the impact of rheumatic heart disease in Uganda among women of reproductive age.

What is one thing that you’ve done the hard way?

I didn’t initially think I was going to be a researcher, and as I’ve progressed, I found I was lacking in the hard quantitative skills. So my advice is, regardless of what you do, learning math never hurts. It’s a powerful tool to apply to anything even if you choose not to go into research.

How do you unwind?

I love to travel. I think everything is a learning opportunity. Wherever I travel I throw in some cultural exploration or history.

I also love cooking. I started with French cuisine basics and now I’m doing more south and southeast Asian dishes. Every time I go to the grocery store I try to buy one weird fruit or vegetable for a challenge.

What are you reading now?

I’m chugging through a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. He is someone I don’t politically agree with, but I really enjoy seeing how other people have made difficult decisions.

What do you like to watch?

My favorite show of all time is still “The Wire.” It has an unbelievably strong sense of place. I like “Westworld” and I watch a fair amount of cooking shows, including “The Mind of a Chef.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve been very privileged to have the chance to go to these wonderful schools, not due to anything I had done, but how lucky I was winning the lottery of birth. I’d love to be able to pay it forward with my work and research.

Stars of Stanford Medicine features standout scholars in the School of Medicine. Certain details in this Q&A have been changed to protect patient identity.

Photo by Becky Bach

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