Prior to starting his career in cardiothoracic surgery, Dr. Hao Pan was a competitive athlete through his college years with aspirations of racing the marathon at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
As a member of the University of Colorado Boulder cross-country and track teams, he ran more than 100 miles per week while completing his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
“The rigorous training schedule we adhered to as a national championship team was all-encompassing. Between running through the mountainous terrain of Boulder and continuously pushing my body to perform, it eventually took a major toll,” Pan said.
The frequent, repetitive running caused a pelvic stress fracture. The Olympics were out.
“Then one day, I walked into an Italian restaurant in Boulder and asked for a job. What started as a simple prep position turned into a line cook position. I learned so much and still enjoy cooking to this day,” he said.
“I had a hard decision to make: What direction did I want to take my career? I considered culinary school or medical school and at the end of the day, decided medical school would be the most fulfilling option.”
“I like to help people,” Pan said. “The anatomy and physiology related to the heart and lungs, especially coming from a long-distance runner, made a lot of sense to me. Furthermore, to some extent I think all surgeons have some level of (attention-deficit disorder). Being able to go in there and immediately alter anatomy and physiology is pretty rewarding. So some of it’s altruistic, some of it’s selfish.”
His best friend’s father, a heart surgeon in Arizona, introduced him to his future.
“I still remember his exact words over the phone: ‘Hey, we’ll get you out here. And you can watch a couple open hearts and see what you think,’” Pan said. “As a young, impressionable post-graduate guy, I saw my first couple bypass surgeries, and it was hook, line and sinker.”
He got a job tracking surgical outcomes at a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, while also teaching organic chemistry lab at Arizona State University and bartending at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort. He was working 100 hours a week by the time he was admitted to medical school at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix.
He went on to serve as chief resident at University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, one of 12 programs in the United States for Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency at the time. Most recently, he practiced at Delray Medical Center in Delray Beach, Florida.
‘A really good fit’
Pan wanted to return to Colorado, in part for the weather and proximity to outdoor adventures. He learned about an opening at the UCHealth Heart and Vascular Center – Medical Center of the Rockies and joined the medical group in November.
“It just seemed like a really good fit,” he said. “I was really impressed by the sophistication of the cardiac surgeons and cardiologists here, too.”
Initially trained in open-heart surgery, he learned to do esophagectomies and minimally-invasive lung surgery “and everything else in between,” he said.
“I really think the cardiac surgeon moving forward needs to be some hybrid version where you can do all the big open cases, but you need to be able to be involved in the transcatheter structural work too,” Pan said. “It’s all about customizing the treatment modality toward the patient.”
Now that we have transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) and transcatheter mitral valve repair, we can be innovative while still offering the big, open operations that people will always need. That’s the benefit of having a surgeon who collaborates with the structural cardiologists; you have the ability to plan strategically around the patient’s long-term care needs and tailor your approach to how you are going to care for that patient down the road.
In his free time, Pan enjoys fishing, cycling, snowboarding and spending time with his girlfriend and two puppies. He still cooks at least once per week. And he runs – eventually, he anticipates running another marathon.