Faculty Focus

Choi, James

James Choi, MD

Clinical Associate Professor of Anesthesia

What is your hometown?

Seoul, Korea. I moved to Iowa City in 1977.

When did you join the University of Iowa faculty?


How/when did you become interested in science and medicine, and Anesthesia?

My father is an Anesthesiologist as well. He encouraged me to consider a career in medicine.

Initially, I rejected his suggestion and planned to become a mathematician and received a BA in mathematics from Northwestern University. Eventually, while working in a research lab and after some shadowing, I realized that I wanted to become a physician.

What interested you to pursue a career in Anesthesia?

To be honest, I backed into Anesthesiology.

After doing all the clinical rotations, I had rejected all the specialties except Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology. From there, with my father’s urging, I chose Anesthesiology. I have been very happy with my choice. I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. I love all aspects of my work at the UI Carver College of Medicine.

Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?

I can think of two: my father, Dr. Won W. Choi, Obstetric Anesthesiologist, and Dr. Robert Forbes, Pediatric Anesthesiologist.

My father is a quiet but confident person. He taught me to do your best without complaint, to persevere even when things are not going your way, to never give up.

Much of my clinical practice in Pediatric Anesthesiology has been influenced by the teachings of Dr. Forbes. I have shamelessly borrowed, imitated, and modified many of his techniques to make them my own.

How or why did you choose the University of Iowa?

After finishing my Anesthesia residency, I worked in private practice in Marshalltown, Iowa, for a year. I came back to Iowa City to do a Pediatric Anesthesia fellowship. While searching for the “perfect job,” an opportunity to participate in M1 teaching in CBL (Case Based Learning) came up and I was hooked.

What kinds of professional opportunities or advantages does being a faculty member at an academic medical center provide?

I have the chance to share ideas and interact with some of the best physicians in their respective fields. I am never bored because I have an opportunity to see the most unusual and challenging cases.

Please describe your professional interests. What led to your interest in Anesthesia?

My specialty area is Pediatric Anesthesia. Currently, I am involved in a study to see if exposure of the developing brain to anesthetics affects brain function such as academic performance. There are some animal studies that suggest the potential neurotoxicity of anesthetics. I am interested in finding out if this is applicable in clinical situations.

I am also interested in medical student education. I really enjoy teaching M1’s via CBL. Out of curiosity, I answered a call to sign up to be a facilitator for the M1 CBL course. I enjoyed teaching medical students so much I ended up staying at the UI Carver College of Medicine rather than entering private practice. Also, as Director of the Anesthesia Clerkship and Senior Anesthesia Externship program, I have the chance to help educate the medical students interested in the field of Anesthesia.

I have been involved in UI Carver College of Medicine’s Admissions Committee for many years and as the chair for the last six years. I have always been interested in the admissions process. I believe it is one of the most important parts of my work, helping to select future physicians.

What are some of your outside interests?

I enjoy playing tennis, basketball, and riding my motorcycle.

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

I like the saying, “If you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life.” I am excited every day to come to work whether I am taking care of patients in the operating room or teaching medical students. I feel fortunate to do what I love and get paid for it.

What is the biggest change you've experienced in your field since you were a student?

The amount of knowledge that has accumulated is staggering. However, the advance in computer technology has made it possible to use the information effectively. I am also finding that the Internet has allowed patients to be much better informed.

What one piece of advice would you give to today's students?

Work hard but be sure to enjoy the process because life is what you do when you are trying to achieve your goals. Find an area that you can be passionate about so that it’s more than just a job.

What do you see as "the future" of medicine?

I see technology playing an increasingly larger role. However, we can’t forget that it’s only a tool; physicians must listen and “touch” the patients to heal their bodies and minds.

In what ways are you engaged with the greater Iowa public (i.e., population-based research, mentoring high school students, sharing your leadership/expertise with organizations or causes, speaking engagements off campus, etc.)

As a chair of the UI Carver College of Medicine’s Admissions Committee, I have given talks during the annual Premedical Conferences. In addition, I have traveled to various colleges around the state of Iowa to explain the medical school admissions process and to encourage students to apply to the UI Carver College of Medicine.