“The doctor will see you now…” Dr. Tricia Moo-Young, the 11-year highly skilled surgeon, advocate, researcher, and educator is used to not being what her patients expect when she walks into the room. This transcends her Chinese last name (her father is Chinese-Jamaican and immigrated to the U.S. before Moo-Young was born) and being an African American woman.
The “unexpected” expands to her advanced surgical training. Less than 200 surgeons around the world are currently skilled to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures like the scarless thyroid procedure, and yet Moo-Young is one of them. She has also published works in numerous medical journals and given talks on endocrine health around the globe including in Japan, Basal, and Paris.
But the surprises don’t stop there. Countless reviews written by her patients all highlight Moo-Young’s compassion. Her patients express amazement with how she ensures that they fully understand their medical condition and share in the decision-making process.
She embraces being the alternative and not the “norm” of how people think their surgeons will look and behave. With her dedication and exceptional track record, she has quickly grown to become the preferred alternative and has a busy clinical practice treating endocrine surgical patients throughout the North Shore.
Moo-Young hears time and again about her “unexpected” approach. This has fueled her drive to be an advocate for the health and wellness of her patients as well as their communities.
She feels today’s health care often forces doctors to put patients into boxes but no patient is the same to her, no matter how similar their conditions are. “The journey and the story are just as important as the problems my patients come to discuss with me,” she says.
Moo-Young strongly believes that health isn’t defined by our individual choices alone, but by multiple factors in our environment. “It is a well-established fact that a person’s zip code is more a determinant of a person’s health than their genetic code.” This statement underscores why under-resourced environments (i.e. food deserts, poor air quality, lack of green spaces) have worse health outcomes when compared to those with abundant resources. She emphasizes that taking collective accountability to strengthen communities and making resources more widely available is key to maintaining the health of all communities.
“The COVID pandemic and its many challenges are clear examples of how interconnected our health is as humans,” she says. Moo-Young believes and hopes if we maintain that same lens of equity about other aspects of our well-being as humans that the world will see a reduction in many other pandemics that plague our world like poverty and crime.
“The practice of Humanism in medicine has taught me how much compassion can be a powerful catalyst for healing,” Moo-Young says. Every day she is reminded when caring for her patients how simply being seen and heard can bring about a healing event that the most advanced health care can not outmatch.
By looking at the whole person and their story and the environment in which they live, instead of taking an individual just at face value, Moo-Young can better treat and serve her patients. Her gifts as an educator and her talents as a surgeon have come from hard work, dedication, and elite training. But Moo-Young believes that the best way she can use these gifts and talents is to make them available and accessible to all.
Moo-Young has found a way to make her research a real vehicle for change, in a similar way to grass-roots community outreach.
Her “humanistic” approach to care is seen several times over in her approach to medical research. She doesn’t accept a “one-size-fits-all” mentality when it comes to how patients are treated. “Minorities are often under-represented in medical research,” she says. It is because of this that she feels it is so important that standards of care are not put into place until studied in all populations and result in good outcomes for all.
Moo-Young’s passion for sharing her gifts also extends to her work globally. She has traveled on missionary trips to several parts of the globe including the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. She currently serves on the board of a national organization called Project Cure that collects and ships surplus health supplies to under-resourced countries.
As a mentor for young people, Moo-Young emphasizes how important it is to own one’s narrative. She embraces her differences and the “unexpectedness” of her appearance, demeanor, and unparalleled smarts. “When you walk in the room, either own who you are or you will be labeled what people believe you to be,” she says, and it is a recurring part of the advice she imparts to the hundreds of trainees she has mentored over the years.
Teaching comes naturally to Moo-Young, from her design and teaching of surgical simulation courses to speaking yearly at high school programming events aimed at increasing diversity in the health and sciences.
Moo-Young does not miss a beat when it comes to having a quick and relatable way for her patients or students to grasp the challenging health topics they are faced with understanding in the office or classroom. The walls of her office reflect such honors as “Resident Teacher of the Year” and “Highest Honors in Molecular Sciences.”
“The best thing I can give my patient is my understanding,” Moo-Young says. “My understanding of where they are coming from, what has brought them to me, and how we can get them to a better place.”