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Opening doors for the future

david lieu uc irvine school of medicine alumni class of '79
Dr. David Lieu was one of the youngest to be accepted into UC Irvine School of Medicine in 1975.

Dr. David Lieu is giving back in tribute to those who came before him

The odds seemed stacked against Dr. David Lieu. He was the son of Chinese immigrant farmers and spoke only Chinese when he first started school. Despite these hurdles, he wanted to fulfill his parents' dream of a better life for their children.

Although his parents' formal education stopped at fourth and tenth grade, Lieu says they always stressed the importance of school. He knew that through hard work and perseverance, he would be able to accomplish this dream.

Lieu eventually went on to study chemistry at UC Berkeley and applied to medical schools across the country.

“I applied to several different medical schools, but UC Irvine was the only one that took a chance on me," said Lieu. "For that, I will always be grateful."

In 1975, Lieu was one of the youngest medical students ever to be accepted to UC Irvine School of Medicine and received his medical degree at age 23. "There were 10,000 students. Tuition was $300 per quarter and parking was free. I was very shy and uncomfortable seeing patients, but it was here I found my passion for family practice, radiology and pathology."

It was also at UC Irvine where he also met his wife, Diana Lieu, PharmD, who graduated from the School of Biological Sciences in 1979.

David Lieu went on to complete his residency at USC and a fellowship at UCLA, ultimately earning board certifications in anatomic and clinical pathology and cytopathology.

Today, he runs an ultrasound-guided, fine-needle aspiration clinic in Alhambra, CA. One of the busiest FNA clinics in the country, it hosts more than 2,000 biopsies a year. He has become a leader in the study of pathology and trains cytopathology fellows from UCLA, USC, and UC Irvine in ultrasound-guided FNA. He also teaches continuing medical education courses for pathologists throughout the United States, lecturing at universities and hospitals as a visiting professor, and teaching an online cancer course for UC Berkeley

When Lieu is not working in his clinic, publishing papers, or lecturing at national and international conferences, he is a proud parent of two UC students, Debbie, a UC Berkeley biology major, and Darren, a UC Irvine junior this year.  

Lieu is grateful for all that the UC system has given and his family and knows there’s a responsibility to give back to all those that came before him and helped him succeed.

“The University of California has a public mission to educate those of us who are willing to work hard to succeed. It is not here just for the elite. It is here for all of us.  It is here for you and me. So, work hard, do great things, and give back to those people and institutions that helped you get there.”

He takes that to heart. At UC Irvine alone, he has been a partner and leader in several campus events, serving as a mentor to UC Irvine Medical School students, inviting alumni, students and faculty for Dinner with 12 Anteaters, hosting Anteater Welcome Receptions for incoming freshman and their parents, and contributing to multiple departments and the UC Irvine Care-a-thon.

Lieu and his family also established the Lieu Scholars in Medical Leadership Endowment to provide scholarship support to talented medical school students, regardless of personal or financial barriers. It is the largest medical student scholarship the School of Medicine has ever received. In addition, Lieu will serve as a mentor and share his wisdom to the recipients of the award annually.  

He says his ultimate goal is to open the doors for future students so they can have the opportunities that he didn't growing up.

“Private donors have become increasingly important in educating the next generation of doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, businessmen, and other professionals," he said. "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.”

Lieu hopes his story inspires future generations to not only dream big, but also to pay it forward. With his support, the most promising students in the nation, regardless of their personal circumstances, will have a chance to pursue their dreams at the UC Irvine School of Medicine and to shape the future.  

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