Spotlight on Christine Hsu Rohde

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, meet some of CUIMC's AAPI staff and faculty

Surgeon Christine Hsu Rohde, MD, MPH
Christine Hsu Rohde

As far back as Christine Hsu Rohde, MD, MPH, remembers, she wanted to do things that people told her she couldn’t.

“My grandmother was a nurse in Taiwan, when girls didn't become doctors, they became nurses,” Rohde says. “But she would always tell me I could be anything I wanted to be, and it was great to have that support from my grandmother. As a child, I never knew of any women who became surgeons, so that just seemed like the kind of thing I wanted to do.”

Rohde is now a reconstructive plastic surgeon at Columbia, chief of microvascular services, and vice chair for faculty development and diversity in the Department of Surgery in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Problem solver

She performs all types of plastic surgery, with a focus on reconstructive surgery for cancer and trauma patients. “I could go on and on about why I love plastic surgery. But I think ultimately it's because I get to be a problem solver, doing surgery on everybody—every age, every part of the body,” she says. “So much of medicine, appropriately so, is focused on saving lives. I get to make people feel better, improve quality of life, and help patients live the best lives they can. I think it’s the best job in the world.”

She applies the same drive to improve the lives of her patients to her role as vice chair for faculty development and diversity.

“I try to make sure that the accomplishments of our faculty who may not be vocal about promoting themselves are highlighted and the faculty have a way to be promoted,” she says. “We’re also making sure that the women and underrepresented minorities in the department are getting opportunities for career growth and get visibility for their accomplishments.”

Diversity and inclusion

“Diversity shouldn’t exist for its own sake, where you can just say, for example, “Oh, we have an African American guy there, so we're good,” she says. “But if you're not really doing anything to include them in the conversation and elevate them to positions of power and leadership, then you're not really including them.”

Numbers aren’t the only metric that matters, Rohde says. “Some will say that half of our medical school classes are women now, so we don’t have a women-in-medicine problem. Or there's a lot of Asians in X field. But if you look at senior leadership, there are fewer women at those higher ranks. And it’s the same for Asians and underrepresented minorities.”

First generation

Retweet by Yo-Yo Ma of Columbia Surgery's #songsofcomfort post
Not every reconstructive plastic surgeon gets retweeted by Yo-Yo Ma.

Both of Rohde’s parents grew up in Taiwan after their families fled China following the Communist takeover. They eventually settled in Syracuse where Rohde was born. “I still remember the first day of school, my sister and I were the only Asian people in our school district for the whole time we were there,” she says. “I was hanging up my coat, and someone called me a chink. I’d never heard that before, but I could tell that it wasn't nice by the way it was said to me.

"Some people have said to me, 'Well, you know, you turned out fine, and you’ve succeeded,' but it's still affected me emotionally.”

With the recent uptick in anti-Asian violence and harassment, Rohde hopes that some good will come out of it. “I think there’s increased awareness, and that’s good because I think Asians in general have tended to be invisible when people think of who makes up America.

“But it’s always been going on and my fear is that it's trendy right now to talk about it, but when the next crisis comes, this gets forgotten.”

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