Surgical Associates of the CASCADES
George T. Tsai, M.D.
Dr. George Tsai received his Medical Doctorate degree in 1994 from Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, CA. Dr. Tsai's completed his General Surgery Residency at the Medical Center of Delaware. Prior to SAC, he worked as a General Surgeon for Christina Care Health System (Newark, DE) and Passavant Area Hospital (Jacksonville, IL).
At the heart of Dr. George Tsai's surgical skills is a love of human anatomy, one he developed long before medical school as an artist. Dr. Tsai originally wanted to become a professional sculptor but switched career paths in college. Still, he knew his gift for three-dimensional composition could somehow be useful.
While many people see art as distinctly unrelated to the medical field, Dr. Tsai sees a close correlation, one that helps him greatly in his surgical practice. "If you boil down the essence of these two disciplines, surgery and sculpture are closely related. You're working with human anatomy. In sculpture, you are manipulating the shape and structure to put forth a good composition. With surgery, you are working with a live body whose balance is very delicate. I see the role of a surgeon as to somehow turn a less than ideal balance, or a pathology, into an ideal one. In other words, to help foster a body's healing process by using my perception and hands."
Dr. Tsai was born in the Orient and lived in Taiwan and Japan before moving to San Diego at the age of 15. The son of a physician, he grew up in a household that valued skill and knowledge. He attended UC San Diego for two years, where he studied studio arts and literature, before transferring to Loma Linda University in California to study biochemistry as an undergrad.
After graduating in 1989, Dr. Tsai moved to the East Coast to attend medical school at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. There, Dr. Tsai was the top student in his class for human anatomy and physiology, two basic, and extremely important, elements of surgery.
Dr. Tsai's skill didn't go unnoticed. Shortly after completing his medical training, Dr. Tsai was offered a teaching position at the Medical Center of Delaware. His numerous duties included rounds in the trauma center and resident surgical clinic in addition to his private practice.
This early experience working in the trauma unit reinforced Dr. Tsai's faith in God, which he credits as an integral aspect of his medical practice, a fact that often surprises people. "When I was doing trauma, I saw quite a bit of domestic violence and attempted murder cases. I helped testify in a couple of them. A lot of times, when you feel that you did everything you could and you can't really explain what happened to your patients, it leads me to the natural conclusion that there's more at work here than what I could do for my patients. My faith keeps me in proper perspective. I don't pretend to know everything or to play God."
Three busy years sped by, and Dr. Tsai's reputation as a top-notch surgeon grew. In 2002, he was offered a position at Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, Illinois, a small town of about 25,000 people. The hospital needed someone to rebuild the surgical department, and Dr. Tsai was looking for a new challenge. Over the course of three years, Dr. Tsai helped revamp a little hospital into one that offers one of the most comprehensive surgical services in Central Illinois.
Living and working in a mostly rural Midwestern town taught Dr. Tsai several important lessons about surgery and the doctor-patient relationship, ones that medical schools rarely teach. "A lot of times what makes sense to you makes zero sense to your patients. I don't expect my patients to understand everything I say or all the concepts, but I do expect my patients to make the decision about surgery with me, and for them to be able to do that, they need to understand the basis of their pathologies."
Dr. Tsai believes that the attitude of "doctor knows best" is unacceptable in this day and age and that patients' trust can only be earned through direct, easy-to-understand communication. He honed his communication style, using everyday language and his drawings, to better explain procedures to patients. "If you're able to establish a trusting relationship with your patients, they're more likely to listen to what you have to say. I need to break down a complex surgery so patients can understand what they're having done. If you can simplify a complex situation with a drawing, most people can understand. That's where my background in drawing and sculpture helps quite a bit in my surgery practice."
Dr. Tsai's reputation and skill continued to garner attention, this time by Surgical Associates of the Cascades, halfway across the country. The two surgeons, Dr. Land and Dr. Hartley, were looking for a third partner to expand their services. In 2005, an unexpected phone call created a difficult decision for Dr. Tsai: should he move to Central Oregon or stay in Illinois to dedicate the rest of his career to a surgical program he built?
After meeting the two doctors in Redmond, Dr. Tsai knew that partnering with the Surgical Associates of the Cascades was the right move. The combination of their approach to medicine and Central Oregon's vibrancy provided the right allure for Dr. Tsai. "If you contrast the two towns, they have a similar population size, but Jacksonville's growth potential is limited. In Central Oregon, you can tell it's a place on the move. If there's anything you can be certain of, it's change in Central Oregon. I figure I'm still relatively young in my career and if I want to affect change, I have to go somewhere where there's change. Plus, Drs. Hartley and Land have similar philosophies to mine about surgery and similar visions about how they want to practice medicine."
Working at the Surgical Associates of the Cascades so far has only reinforced Dr. Tsai's confidence in his decision. He enjoys the smaller size of the practice, which enables him to spend more time with patients and also with his wife Lulu and their three sons.