Dr. Chong Park can’t remember a time when he didn’t know he would be a physician.
“My father said I could be any type of adult cardiac surgeon I wanted,” said Park, a cardiothoracic surgeon, jokingly.
Park’s interest in medicine came naturally – he grew up in a family of doctors. His father and brother are heart surgeons, and his sister is a neonatologist.
Park, a physician at Allegheny Health Network, recently took on a new role when he was named president of Allegheny Health Network’s Jefferson and Canonsburg hospitals.
The lifelong Upper St. Clair resident is the sixth physician president in the AHN network.
It’s a different role from the clinical and administrative positions he has held, and one he was eager to tackle.
In a study published by Social Science & Medicine, physician-run hospitals topped the U.S. News and World report rankings and earned 25% higher quality scores than hospitals not run by physicians.
That doesn’t mean only doctors can run hospitals effectively – administrators who aren’t physicians bring plenty of business acumen and other skills to a hospital. But physicians like Park, who still sees patients, view management through a uniquely patient-focused lens.
“Traditionally, hospitals were run by people with MBAs, and with no clinical experience. As a physician, it brings a unique perspective to running a hospital,” said Park. “What do we do? We take care of patients. It would behoove the people at the top to understand that. I bring the physician/patient side to it, and if you’re thinking about it, it’s the way to go.”
Park, who will continue his clinical role at Jefferson, most recently served as medical director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Jefferson Hospital. He also served as chief medical officer at Jefferson.
Under Park’s leadership, Jefferson Hospital received national acclaim for its excellent outcomes and quality initiatives, including its top-notch care for cardiovascular and thoracic patients.
Park said much of the work he did as CMO at Jefferson has carried over into his role as president.
He also is tasked with managing the buildings’ infrastructure, and jokes that he’s “learning more about HVAC than I ever thought I would know. “
Park aims to provide patient-centric, quality-based care at Canonsburg and Jefferson hospitals.
“You don’t have to be everything to everybody, but whatever we do, it has to be great,” he said.
As small hospitals serving their local communities, Canonsburg and Jefferson hospitals have unique personalities, Park said.
“They’ve both very homey, but they they have their distinct flavor. So, versus going to a hospital downtown where you’re a name on a name band, people know you here,” said Park. “I was seeing one of my patients, and one of my nurses said, ‘That’s my fourth-grade teacher.’ That’s the difference.”
Park earned his undergraduate degree from Washington & Jefferson College.
He earned his medical degree from Hahnemann University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and completed residencies at Allegheny General Hospital and Brown University.
Park performs cardiac, vascular and thoracic surgery, and he finds his work as a surgeon both challenging and rewarding.
Medicine, he said, is a humbling profession.
“You have your highs and there are lows, and the lows teach you not to go too high,” he said. “Surgery is premeditated trauma. You have to remember what you’re doing to people is hurtful, so you try to do the least harm to them while you’re in there for the maximum benefit.”
So, he works with patients to choose the safest, most efficient option.
“I won’t do anything I wouldn’t do to my own family,” said Park.
Technology, he said, has created phenomenal opportunities in medicine. The downside, however, is the regulation of medicine, where “the government and the insurance companies basically tell you what you can and cannot do.”
Park takes the helm amid a tumultuous time in healthcare, including rising costs and regulatory challenges.
He also is assuming the role of president amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Park encourages patients to go to the hospital for routine and emergency medical care- don’t delay care because of worries about the novel coronavirus.
And Park advises people to follow doctors’ guidelines to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“I would tell people to just be smart. Do what you’re supposed to do. If everyone wore a mask properly and did the right things, it wouldn’t spread as much as it has,” he said.
In his free time, Park enjoys spending time with his family.
The parents of three grown sons, Park and his wife, Lisa, spent years watching their boys play football at the youth, scholastic and Division I collegiate level.
More recently, Park has taken up scuba diving, a sport he was introduced to when he was a resident, but didn’t have time to pursue.
“It’s fun. We pretend we’re Jacques Cousteau. It’s really cool,” said Park, who has dived to 100 feet. “It makes you feel insignificant. You realize there are are a lot bigger things down there.”
A prolific reader, especially of science fiction, Park knocks down about two books a week.
Park said he is proud of the culture of compassion and caring at Jefferson.
“And I’m learning it’s the exact same way at Canonsburg,” said Park.
“What I’m most proud about is the way we take care of people here. They’re not just patients. I see them in the store, I see them in restaurants,” said Park. “I go to Primanti’s on the Street for lunch and the bartender is the wife of one of my patients. The people you take care of are all around you, and that matters.”