Spotlight: Step by Step, Dr. Ellen Kwan Is Leading the Way to Changes Across Primary Care

May 18, 2022

Ellen Kwan, MD

One thing led to the next for Ellen Kwan, MD.  

"I decided to become a family physician because I believed in approaching the health care of my patients within the context of their family and social relationships," she says. 

"Then I was drawn to helping our practice move from paper health records to electronic ones, as I had done so painfully at my previous job. From my experience helping physicians adopt the new system, I realized much of the difficulty stemmed from us not being trained in the soft skills of leadership-and this catapulted me towards the coaching and professional development work that I do today."

Of the multiple roles that Dr. Kwan has within Beth Israel Lahey Health Primary Care, the common thread between all of them is being of service. Whether she is helping her patients lead healthier lives, optimizing Electronic Health Records to make work easier for her and her colleagues, or coaching physicians to manage work/life balance, "it all matters," she says.

"If I can effect positive changes, both on a micro and macro level, I am contributing to moving us all forward in improving how we deliver care."

As a Chinese-American leader, Dr. Kwan takes note of diversity gaps as she moved among leadership circles. She felt compelled to take a more active role in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts in the primary care space in addition to everything else she does. "I hope to help our organization invest more holistically in our staff to uplift us all," says Dr. Kwan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of her career focuses is to manage the amount of professional responsibilities she takes on as a way to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

"For someone who is so invested in helping others, it can be very difficult to for me to say no," Dr. Kwan says. "I've had to learn how to turn down different roles, to say no to participating in high-level committees and other activities, even if the offers are flattering or might have the potential to further my career. I've learned that my sense of work/family/life balance is more important, and integral to not only my health, but to the quality of what I can offer all these spheres of my life."

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. If Ellen Kwan could give one piece of advice to the next generation of AAPI people in medicine, it would be to adopt the sense of balance she has learned to prioritize for herself, and to cultivate interests outside of work.

"Without this, medicine can be all-encompassing and too overwhelming for you to continue to work in healthcare," she says. "Give yourself permission to not know all the answers. People appreciate honesty, humility and an earnest desire to learn more than someone who knows it all."