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Dean's Report: Dr. David Lieu

Dr. David Lieu, UC Irvine School of Medicine Alum
Today, Dr. David Lieu runs an ultrasound guided fine-needle aspiration clinic in Alhambra.

School of Medicine alum started college with a bus pass, backpack and a dream

For Dr. David Lieu, ’79, success represents the fulfillment of his parents’ dream of a better life for their children.  Lieu is the oldest son of two Chinese immigrant farmers.  Although their formal education stopped at fourth and tenth grade, Lieu says they always stressed the importance of school.

Lieu entered UC Berkeley with only a bus pass, a backpack and a dream.  He went on to medical school at UC Irvine, then completed his residency at USC and fellowship at UCLA, ultimately obtaining board certifications in anatomic and clinical pathology and cytopathology.

Today, he runs an ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration clinic in Alhambra, CA and is on the clinical faculty at UCLA.  Recently, Lieu spoke to the Dean’s Report about the road he has travelled since medical school.

Please tell us about your career.

Following residency, I practiced general pathology in Los Angeles. Ten years later, I completed a subspecialty fellowship in cytopathology at UCLA. 

I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked as a cytopathologist at a teaching hospital for six years. During that time, I earned an MBA from UC Berkeley. I decided to merge patient contact with pathology.  

In 2000, I implemented a business plan that I had written for a strategic marketing class at Berkeley and started a free-standing fine-needle aspiration clinic in Alhambra, CA. Today, it is one of the busiest FNA clinics in the country, with more than 2,000 biopsies a year. I teach continuing medical education courses for pathologists throughout the U.S. and an online college course for Berkeley.

What do you find exciting in medicine today?

It is exciting to be able to make a pathologic diagnosis in a few minutes, without surgery, by looking at a few cells.  

In my clinic, I stain the aspirates I obtain on fine-needle aspiration and examine the cells immediately. I tell a patient in five minutes whether or not he or she has cancer. I decide whether I need to do a core biopsy, flow cytometry, IHC stains, cytogenetic studies, or cultures while the patient waits. We can do so much with so little.

As a donor to UC Irvine, why do you support medical education and the School of Medicine?

Many public universities are underfunded. States have divested from higher education. Private donors have become increasingly important in educating the next generation of doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, businessmen, and other professionals.

Yesterday, we were helped by the generosity of strangers who came before us. Today, we are the strangers who must help those who come after us. I donate much of my income to education to help those who come after me as a tribute to those who came before me and helped me.

Any interesting hobbies, skills, or passions that might surprise people?

I was a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) high school football official for 12 years.

Initially, I was not very good because I never played football. I worked hard to improve by officiating hundreds of games without pay to gain experience. I attended officiating clinics to learn from PAC-12 and NFL officials. I spent many hours studying the rules and mechanics books. 

After years of hard work, I was assigned to a varsity crew as a head linesman, became one of the top-rated officials in the association, worked many playoff games, studied to be a college official, and was appointed an instructor in football officiating.