26 WEILL CORNELL MEDICINE
but you’ve done something for the common good. I think we
as an institution are ahead of the curve in our mentorship of
students, trainees, and faculty. But we want to lead the curve,
and it starts from the top. A challenge is figuring out ways to
incentivize faculty to mentor when they have so many other
demands on their time and to create a culture of mentorship,
not just formal programs.
Could you talk about your current research and the
clinical trials you’re directing in pulmonology?
As a student, my first interest was oncology, but I switched to
lung disease because I liked the ICU. I liked the fast pace. And to
be successful in the ICU, you essentially have to become a lung
expert. I worked in basic science for about fifteen years, and it
turns out that a molecule I was working with produces a gas
that has potent anti-inflammatory properties for lung disease.
I’m delighted that this discovery has been translated to three
clinical trials, all in phase 1/2—on sepsis, idiopathic pulmonary
fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension.
Your wife, Dr. Mary Choi, is also a colleague. What
have been the joys and challenges of sharing a life as
two busy physician-scientists, having a marriage, and
raising a family?
We love it. We appreciate each other’s work, and we both know
what it means to be a physician-scientist; we share the pains
and successes and understand each other’s goals. I am so proud
of Mary, who has been continuously funded by the NIH since
her fellowship years without a gap, initially with an F32 NRSA
grant for postdocs, transitioning successfully to a K08 career
development award, and then to a standard independent R01
grant. She’s had successful R01 renewals of multiple cycles
through today, even during the tough NIH paylines. Mary was
able to juggle these academic achievements while ensuring the
happiness of a tight-knit family with our two sons. It’s been
wonderful, even more so now because our laboratories at Weill
Cornell have joint meetings, grants, and papers. We didn’t talk
a lot of shop at home when we were raising our kids, but now
that we’re empty nesters we tend to do that a little more.
What inspired you to go into medicine?
You might say, “Your dad was a physician, so wasn’t it obvious?”
After my family left Korea, my dad was the only doctor in a small
town in the jungles of Malaysia, and our home was around the
corner from the infirmary. On weekends I used to help him—with
menial things, but I got exposed to patients, nurses, and doctors—
and it probably affected me more than I remember or admit. That
said, I’m the only one of my siblings who pursued medicine, and
it wasn’t a forgone conclusion. In high school, I wanted to be a
priest. To get into seminary school, they were testing on Dante and
Hegel and Plato, but I’d come to the U.S. when I was twelve and
my English wasn’t there yet. I also thought about anthropology, Pho
A GOOD TEAM: Choi and his
wife, Mary Choi, MD, associate
professor of medicine, whose
lab focuses on the cellular
and molecular mechanisms of
tissue inflammation and injury