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HMSA Member News > Board Member ProfileWinter 2008 IS Magazine

Heritage, Destiny and Choice

Board member Dr. Michael Sia’s public health background helps him see the big picture.

By Georgette Woo

It looks as if 48-year-old pediatrician Michael Sia frequents the fountain of youth. Once, he was ushered out of an executive committee meeting at the Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women and Children – no medical students allowed. He was the chairperson. Just this morning, a new mom dubiously eyed his alma mater aloha shirt and athletic shoes and asked how long it had been since he graduated.

Thirty years ago, he played football and basketball and served as sports editor for the Punahou School newspaper. Back then, he had no desire to follow in the footsteps of a long line of family physicians.

His grandfather, Dr. Richard Ho Ping Sia, devised the first crude screening test – called Sia’s test – for blood diseases in China in 1921. Mary Li, Richard’s wife, was the daughter of doctors Khai Fai Li and Tai Heong Keong, the first Chinese couple to practice Western medicine in Honolulu. Their son, Michael’s father, is Calvin Sia, M.D., a local pediatrician known for his visionary approach to pediatric care.

Sia says his parents never pushed their children to become doctors. One of his brothers is an editor, the other an attorney. Sia’s own career choice involved much soul-searching. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, he returned home and began working at Kapi‘olani Medical Center, drawing blood, assisting with autopsies, and helping a neonatologist develop a grant proposal.

His application to the University of Hawai‘i School of Public Health was initially denied. “I lacked the work experience they prefer in a candidate,” he says. He persisted and was accepted. “But things didn’t come easily for me,” Sia says. “I wasn’t a superstar. I learned to work very hard.”

It was there he met Lea, a teaching assistant in his genetics class. He proposed (“I got an A in that class,” he jokes), and they married in 1985, right after graduation. By then, Sia realized he could better influence people’s health behaviors as a physician.

Getting into medical school proved another challenge. “They prefer students with strong science backgrounds,” he says. The couple moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to attend Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Lea completed her Ph.D. in genetics while he earned his medical degree.

After graduation and the birth of their daughter, Marissa, they moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where Sia completed his residency at Stanford University Hospital, eventually choosing pediatrics as his specialty. Daughter Whitney was born four years later.

Sia, who started his Honolulu practice in 1994, finds his public health background helpful. “There seems to be a movement back to blaming the victim, with obesity for example,” he says. “But public health taught me that never works. I prefer to examine the family’s habits and set up a framework to help them adopt healthier behaviors.”

Today, Sia and his dad share passionate conversations about pediatrics. He lifts weights twice weekly with long-time friend Andrew Dang, M.D., and serves as a consultant for the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind. As an associate clinical professor at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine, he performs grand rounds one month each year with medical students and residents at Kapi‘olani Medical Center.

Sia has served on various HMSA committees since 1996 and was appointed to the board of directors in 2004. “My role is to help create a better linkage with HMSA, members and providers,” he says. “Most board members are focused on the members, which is good. I hope to include a focus on what’s best for providers. Cooperation and open communication are key to the future of health care.”

 
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