|Fall 2009-Center Profile|
Crossroads salutes Warner Huh, M.D., UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center associate scientist and associate professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. Dr. Huh specializes in the research and treatment of gynecologic cancers, with a particular emphasis on cervical cancer and the effects of the human papillomavirus (HPV). In August 2009, the American Cancer Society’s Life Inspiration Awards honored him with the Caregiver Award.
Growing up, Warner Huh, M.D., always had an interest in health care, but one day in particular made a huge impact on his career path. It was a day when Dr. Huh accompanied his father, a radiation oncologist, into work.
“To see the way those patients responded to my father—as he listened and got to know each of them—made me realize that even though oncology can be a field with moments of sadness, it is also a very gratifying one, both personally and professionally,” Dr. Huh recalls. “That was one of my motivating reasons for going into medicine.”
The son of Korean immigrants, Dr. Huh grew up in the fast-paced world of New York City, specifically Manhattan, which he describes as “very different, but exciting. It’s a matter of what you’re used to. At the time, I thought it was like living in any other place. Once my parents moved to the suburbs, I realized how different it is to live outside the city as opposed to living in it.”
After graduating from boarding school, Dr. Huh left New York to attend Skidmore College, where he received his bachelor’s degree in biology/chemistry. Later, he went to Georgetown University for medical school, and there his interest in oncology grew more focused.
“Georgetown had one of the strongest gynecologic oncology programs in the country at the time,” Dr. Huh recalls. “One thing I admire about gynecologic oncology is that patients receive comprehensive care from the moment they are diagnosed. Unlike many surgical oncology fields, where the patient has an operation and then moves on to a medical or radiation oncologist, gynecologic oncologists take global care of the patient from the very beginning to the very end.
“That model of one doctor providing continuity of care was the driving force behind my going into gynecologic oncology,” he says.
After receiving his M.D., Dr. Huh moved to Boston for his residency in obstetrics-gynecology at Tufts University. There he reconnected with a classmate from his boarding school days, the former Mimi Smith, who was also in Boston training to be a physician. The two began dating and eventually married in 1996.
From the Northeast to the Deep South
After completing his fellowship, Dr. Huh remained at UAB, joining the faculty in 2002. While he had originally planned on returning to Boston after training, the opportunities available at UAB were too good to leave. “The quality of training was unbelievable, and being a faculty member here has been one of the most professionally fulfilling jobs I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s hard for me to imagine moving on to something different.”
Professionally, Dr. Huh says his patients inspire him to put in the long hours. “That’s the most gratifying aspect,” he says. “I’ve always admired how much the women in this state respect and value the opinion of their physicians. They’re so appreciative and truly trust what you have to say. That motivates me to make sure I’m doing the absolute right thing for my patients at all times.”
Dr. Huh also believes that UAB is one of the few places in the country where research can be applied to clinical care rapidly to make an impact on patient outcomes. “That’s a huge motivating force for me,” he says. “We always talk about return on investment, and for me, the research I do is directly invested back into the community.
“At the end of every day, I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something, even if it’s really small,” he says. “There’s rarely a day when I don’t feel that I’ve made a positive impact in one way or another—whether it’s patient care, research or teaching our residents and fellows. I always feel there’s been something productive, and that’s what’s great about this job.”