5 Questions

A Conversation with Robert J. Wong, MD, MS

In this issue, HCV Next asks five questions of Robert J. Wong, MD, MS, director of research and education in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Alameda Health System’s Highland Hospital and assistant clinical professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

Wong studied molecular and cell biology at University of California, Berkeley, and then moved across the bay to the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Medicine for his MD. He received an MS in clinical epidemiology and completed fellowships in gastroenterology and hepatology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His internal medicine residency was completed at California Pacific Medical Center, and he did a research fellowship at National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health.

In 2015, Wong received the AASLD Young Investigator Travel Award, and in 2014 he was the recipient of the Salix Fellowship to Leadership Award. EASL also gave him the Young Investigator Award (2014) and UCSF sent him to Guangzhou, China as part of the Sun Yat Sen University Exchange program. Wong was the Dr. Lester Chen Memorial Scholar of the Chinese American Physicians Society, the Chinese American Medical Society Scholar and received the Tylenol Scholarship, all in 2005.

Robert J. Wong

Wong co-chair’s the Alameda Health System Institutional Review Board and sits on a number of committees, including the Highland Hospital Department of Medicine Committee to Support Resident Scholarly Activity, the Highland Hospital Internal Medicine Residency Program Clinical Competency Committee and the California Pacific Medical Center Gastroenterology Fellowship Program, Program Evaluation Committee.

What are your hobbies outside of practicing medicine?

While clinical medicine and clinical research consume most of my time, I also enjoy exploring the outdoors both locally and abroad. Traveling is another hobby that I especially enjoy, providing the opportunity to experience the diverse world cultures firsthand, with a particular focus on adventurous culinary experiences.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

As an early clinician investigator, there are several people who played instrumental roles in my personal and career development. Early on during medical school, I had the unique opportunity to work and learn from Douglas Corley, MD, PhD, who armed me with the fundamentals of clinical research and biostatistics that have helped fuel my passion for clinical research in hepatology. During medical school and internal medicine residency, I had the great opportunity to start working with Robert Gish, MD, on a variety of liver disease research projects, and over the years we have continued to work closely on a variety of projects. During the latter part of my training, I was mentored by Aijaz Ahmed, MD, who was instrumental in fueling my excitement about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. I am thrilled to continue benefiting from his mentorship.

What area of research in hepatology most interests you right now and why?

The field of hepatology has seen some exciting new advancements in the recent era, most notably with the advent of highly effective treatments for chronic hepatitis C virus infection. However, the rising prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome, especially in the United States, will contribute to the increasing prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This emerging cohort of patients with NAFLD will contribute to a new wave of patients with progressive liver disease leading to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Aside from optimizing management of metabolic syndrome factors that contribute to NAFLD, the therapeutic options for patients with NAFLD are limited, especially for those with more advanced disease demonstrating nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and fibrosis. The emerging therapies in clinical trials and in earlier phases of development are the most interesting to me as we try to address this emerging major health burden.

What advice would you offer a medical student?

I would advise medical students today to remain open minded about what their future holds. Medicine is changing so rapidly with new innovative ways to learn, teach, and care for patients in a much more interactive and collaborative environment. I would urge students to think outside of conventional clinical medicine, and let their innovative ideas guide them to help improve the future of medicine for patients and those of us that care for them.

What’s up next for you?

Currently, I am actively involved in both clinical medicine and clinical research at a large urban safety-net hospital. I am actively involved in the residency and GI fellowship programs within our program, as well. Moving forward, I hope to be able to continue my research into health care disparities in the field of hepatology such that meaningful changes can be learned and implemented across populations that are at highest risk for health care disparities, including ethnic minorities and those of low socioeconomic status.