A Conversation With Our January Cover Doctors Shahriar Bobby Davari and Stephanie Lu

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Shahriar Bobby Davari is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente and Stephanie Lu is an ophthalmologist at UCI Medical Center. Both were recognized by the Orange County Medical Association as among the most accomplished and caring physicians in the county.

Why did you go into your current specialty?

Davari: For me, I like the continuity and being able to see the same people over time and watching them get better. That’s super gratifying because you get to see the slow progression. For a lot of diseases, you don’t get an instant cure. Preventive medicine is always something I’ve been interested in. I wanted to get to the root of the problem. What’s cool for me is I get to see people from all walks of life. Not only different ages but also different lifestyles. There are so many variations. I get to pick the ones that I like, take those on myself, and pass it on to other people.

Lu: When I was in medical school, I was looking for something in the surgical specialty but I didn’t want to be in the OR all day because you don’t form long-term relationships. Ophthalmology is a good balance because you’re in the OR once a week and the rest of the time is spent in a clinic. And then also, technology. We have all these different gadgets that we work with. Amazing machines. Innovation is a major aspect of opthalmology. When I was in ophthalmology, I decided to go into retina because I wanted to form long-term relationships with the patients. Retina patients are patients for life. Retinal diseases for older populations are long-term diseases that we have to monitor and treat. Patients with macular degeneration come frequently for injections so I get to know the whole family. 

What do you love most about your home hospital?

Lu: I’ve been there since residency. I wanted to stay in an academic practice because you’re always on the cutting edge of technology. I’m involved in major clinical trials and we’re always part of testing all the new medication. As part of a university practice, you work with residents and fellows and then I have my own retina fellows too. I have a lot of interaction with medical students.

Davari: Kaiser is really known for teamwork. We work across specialties so it’s one home. For patients when they come, we can think of it as one medical home. We do a lot of innovative things where if you come to me with a rash and I don’t know what it is, I can take a picture and it automatically goes into your chart. Then a dermatologist can virtually look at it, and in real time tell me what it is. So you don’t have to get shipped out to somewhere else and go to another appointment. The collaboration between the different specialties is really what makes Kaiser sort of special. The communication is really easy. It’s probably similar to UCI.

Lu: That’s why it’s easy to work in a multi-specialty practice instead of your own solo practice because you can get immediate help. The hospital has all the specialties especially Kaiser and university hospitals; we have every single specialty available.

Davari: Primary care is really tough because there’s so much to know. Health records give us alerts and they help us remember. It’ll tell you if you can’t give a certain drug because someone has renal failure. You know there’s a quality oversight. These things are very supportive to a doctor so I would say it’s a very supportive and collaborative environment. 

What is a piece of advice that has been particularly impactful in your career?

Davari: The concept of servant leadership. It’s when you’re really trying to get something done and you may not need to lead the project. You may not be the right person to lead the project, but you can think of the idea and find someone to help you lead the project. For example, I created a dermatology algorithm that’s now in Epic (medical software) that can help people (identify) rashes and answer certain questions without having to call a dermatologist. I’m not a dermatologist so I had to find our dermatology chief and ask her to help me do it. She led the project and I was just a servant in the background. 

I’m starting to develop an AI platform that goes into health records to help doctors make better decisions about antibiotics. I got a team of programmers who helped me develop the product. I can’t do the programming. I kind of just helped with the design so it’s an easy interface. That’s the best thing I learned from my program director Tim Munzing. He really helped push that concept. People think that leadership is going in and you take over and win at all costs and become the president. A lot of times, it’s about getting the thing done and it doesn’t mean that you need to get credit for it or be recognized as the leader for the project. 

Lu: From my mentor, I learned to never stop learning because learning never stops. He really encouraged me to stay in an academic practice because you actually learn from your students too. In our university, we partner with all the companies and get to test out tools before they go on the market. It’s a lot of innovation and learning. Even though I’ve been out of fellowship for more than 10 years, I’m still learning every year. Even with surgery, there are different ways of doing the same surgery. 

Most memorable patient?

Davari: There was a guy who I took care of for the first five years of my practice when I was a resident. And he had a really bad autoimmune disease (his immune system was attacking his body). He had lupus among other things, but he slowly sort of died over five years. A couple years before he died, he actually Photoshopped me into his family vacation photo. I’ve had that photo in my office for the past 15 years. It was the coolest present I’ve ever gotten from a patient ever. Just last November, his son came to my office. He has a copy of the photo at his house as well and he’s always seen a picture of me, but never met me so he wanted to come and say hi.

Lu: I was taking care of an older gentlemen, a retired physician from Texas. They moved to California to retire. This gentleman had Alzheimer’s. For whatever reason, he doesn’t like to go to the doctor. He never follows commands, but we just hit it off so well. When he says he’s going to see Dr. Liu, his wife says he’s always happy. When he passed away, his wife continued to see me even though she doesn’t have any retina issues. I saw her for another year or two, and then I got this phone call one day from the daughter that her mom is dying and has a stomach ulcer and couldn’t stop the bleeding. So it was her last couple of days. The family asked her what she wanted them to do for her. She said she wanted to get her hair done, nails done, and look pretty. She’s a very elegant lady and always put-together. She also said, “Can you put Dr. Liu on the phone because I want to talk to her? I’m going to see (my husband) soon, and I’m sure he’s going to ask about Dr. Liu. I have to talk to her before I go.” She was already on morphine drip when I talked to her.

You both live in Newport Beach. What are your favorite things to do in O.C.?

Davari: I love surfing and beach volleyball. I play on 30th Street. That’s the premiere place to play volleyball in Newport Beach. That’s been my spot Saturdays and Sundays for the past 15 years. On the weekends, I don’t ever go in my car. I just walk down to the water, all my friends are there, and we play from sun-up to sun-down. My favorite place to eat is Sancho’s Tacos. I go there, grab some tacos, then go back and play. And lately, I’ve been getting into golf. 

Lu: I love getting together with my girlfriends and going to restaurants. I think my favorite restaurants are Studio at The Montage and Andrea at Pelican Hill. It’s a nice environment to hang out. 

What’s something people might not know about you?

Lu: I love karaoke. I’m a horrible singer, but I still love it. 

Davari: I love podcasts. I think I’ve logged about 3,000 hours. As soon as I wake up, I’m like, “Okay what podcast am I listening to?” One of my favorite ones is “Slow Burn,” which just came out a couple years ago about the Nixon impeachment.

What are some ways people can lead a healthier life in 2020 and beyond?

Davari: What I say is the best workout is the one you’ll actually do. You’ll see bootcamps all over Orange County. Bootcamp this, bootcamp that.

Lu: It’s not sustainable.

Davari: It’s not sustainable, and that’s what a lot of physicians understand. The key is sustainability. The key is being able to sustain the dietary change. That’s why I like getting to know families and figuring out what it is that’s causing the weight gain or disease and try to get to the heart of that and help them make minor, sustainable changes. So if you’re going to do one thing, I tell people to just park a half mile from work every day. That’s cheap and you don’t have to get a membership to anything. It’s sustainable. You need to make exercise and diet like brushing your teeth. If you have to be motivated to do something, that doesn’t work for most people. 

Lu: Even though it’s not my specialty, I like to chat with my diabetic patients just to see what they’re doing for exercise. You don’t have to do a lot of exercise every day. It’s just consistency. I don’t have any gym memberships. I don’t like to go to the gym. I do 15 minutes of yoga, stretching, and core training. I just find a video on YouTube and incorporate different routines from videos and I have my own 15 minutes a day. It’s sustainable and I also like to walk. 

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