Meet Pain Interventionalist Dr. Catherine Choi
Dr. Catherine Choi talks about her work as a pain interventionalist and her compassionate approach to chronic pain patients.
Summit pain interventionalist Dr. Catherine Choi credits her first steps toward medicine to rebel teen tendencies and a love of science. “Science was my favorite subject through grade school and high school,” Dr. Choi remembers. “In high school, Mom counseled me to consider a career in pharmacy or nursing, because being a doctor was for men. I was a bit of a rebel. I wanted to see if I could prove that medicine could be for women, too.”
Science and determination may have opened the door, but compassion closed the deal. “I came to realize that practicing medicine was the right fit for me because I really enjoy helping people,” says Dr. Choi. “Counselor is a natural role for me. I take a comprehensive approach in working with my patients to address physical problems. I provide educated insight, work with them to understand what’s causing the problem, and then help to fix it.”
A practice encompassing physical medicine and pain management
Dr. Choi’s practice reflects her training in both physical medicine and pain management. “Physical medicine and rehabilitation enables me to work with patients who’ve experienced trauma or a catastrophic event,” she explains. “I can help them recover and rehabilitate. Pain management training provided the fine manipulation skills required to deliver precise, guided injections to give patients immediate pain relief.”
Personal experience informs professional practice
“My younger sister lived with a chronic disease for many years, and passed away when she was 32,” says Dr. Choi. “I was very involved in her care for many years, and that experience really opened my eyes to a different side of medicine. It’s one thing to see illness from a clinician’s side, but I’ve also experienced illness as a sister. Having that experience has definitely changed the way I approach my patients.”
“Sometimes, the best medicine is just to listen and allow each patient to be heard,” says Dr. Choi. “My time with my patients is limited, but I try to get to a deeper level of conversation. I want to know how the problem is really affecting my patient. Even when I can’t completely eliminate pain, allowing my patients to be heard builds the trust everyone wants with a doctor.”
Education is a cornerstone of Dr. Choi’s care
“Part of my approach to care is providing patient education,” she notes. “I want my patients to see the imaging that explains what they are feeling and what’s happening to them. Then, I help them understand the available options, from conservative treatments to surgery. I guide them, but ultimately it’s up to patients to choose the path they want to take. If one treatment doesn’t work, we’ll keep looking for another option.
Dr. Choi leaves no stone unturned when treating chronic pain
Treating chronic pain is challenging, but Dr. Choi deliberately chose this area of medicine. “I strive to see each patient as a person,” she explains. “If a patient is feeling pain, I want to get to the root of the problem. Imaging doesn’t always help us figure out what is wrong with the spine. But even when I can’t see the pain source on a scan, it doesn’t change the fact that my patient is in pain. In those cases, I may consider my patient’s lifestyle. Would a lifestyle or social modification make their pain feel better?”
“Pain can be complex,” Dr. Choi says thoughtfully. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box, especially if a patient has already seen multiple other physicians. Maybe they’ve had surgery and were told that nothing else could be done. To that rebel teen that’s still inside me, that’s a challenge. I really do love challenges, and I love to look for solutions. Even with the most challenging pain problems, I’m going to say, ‘I’ll bet there’s something we can offer.’”
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