Top Docs - Meet our 2015 Top Hospitalists
Medical school: Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif.
Residency: Harvard Medical School (Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital)
Title: Assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco; Assistant professor of public health, University of California, Berkeley
Phuoc Le, MD,'s path from a rural village in Vietnam to the halls of Harvard and Stanford is a classic example of how the American dream is supposed to play out. He was born just after the end of the Vietnam War, and one of his earliest memories is fleeing the country with his mother on a small fishing boat en route to Hong Kong and eventual political asylum in the United States.
“We lived in housing projects in Wichita, Kan., and then went to live near relatives in Sacramento,” said Dr. Le. “I went to a gang-ridden high school where achievement was not the norm, but my siblings and I got through it because we were grateful for the chance just to go to school.”
Dr. Le went on to attend some of the most revered schools in the country, including completing a combined medicine, pediatrics, and global health equity residency at Harvard Medical School in Boston, where he worked under Partners in Health cofounder Paul Farmer, MD. The 5-year residency program, which included stints in Haiti, Rwanda, and other poor countries, cemented his passion for global health.
“I wanted to do more than see patients at the ends of their lives when diseases have become irreversible,” said Dr. Le, who also holds a master's degree in public health and is fluent in Vietnamese, Chinese, and Spanish. “Working with Paul, I saw firsthand how global health is practiced and how the root causes of diseases—such as access to running water and electricity—are addressed.”
His experiences set the stage for becoming a full-time hospitalist, with an emphasis on global health, said Dr. Le. His work with Partners in Health taught him about the value of working in teams to improve systems, skills that are readily transferable to hospital medicine.
At the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Dr. Le helped to initiate a Global Health Core within the hospital medicine division. The group has grown from 5 to 12 faculty members and also launched the nation's first Hospital Medicine-Global Health Fellowship, establishing UCSF as a leader in the emerging field.
“When Phuoc joined UCSF, we had a few hospitalists interested in global health and had set up small initiatives in Africa, Asia, and China,” said Bradley Sharpe, MD, UCSF's associate chief of hospital medicine. “Phuoc's arrival changed everything, and we now have become a magnet for hospitalists with this interest.”
Dr. Le and his team make regular trips to a hospital in Hinche, Haiti, where they have maintained a close partnership since the 2010 earthquake. They also visit rural hospitals in India, Liberia, and Nepal several times a year, where they have global health fellows working with partner organizations to strengthen health systems.
One of Dr. Le's most successful recent initiatives is the UCSF Global Health Boot Camp, a 4-day CME course that teaches strategies for working in the developing world to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and others. The first course in 2014 attracted so much interest that some applicants had to be turned away. Dr. Le also established the Health, Equity, Action, and Leadership, or HEAL, initiative, a 2-year fellowship for physicians, nurses, and pharmacists that involves working in underserved domestic, as well as international, communities.
“Every fellow spends half of their time in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico or Arizona, where there is a staggeringly high prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, and other problems,” said Dr. Le. “Many of the root causes of disease we see in developing countries are also happening here.”