There’s a lot to be said for environmental influences. Dr. John S. Liu is keenly aware of this. He comes from a family that is in the medical profession and, as a result, grew up in a setting where he was surrounded by a lot of people practicing medicine—both family members and their colleagues. He enjoyed the biological sciences in school, so it’s no surprise that he ended up picking a track that would take him to medical school.
As for choosing to specialize in urology, he was once again influenced by people in the field. He was interested in doing surgery and found himself exposed to a number of urology physicians and residents while going through surgical rotations at medical school. “It was sort of serendipitous,” says Dr. Liu. “At that time, we weren’t really exposed to urology while going through rotations, but I met several urologists; they all seemed to be good people, and they really seemed to enjoy what they were doing. So that rerouted me toward that path. I did a residency in urology and ended up staying with it.”
After he graduated from Duke University, he went to medical school at Medical College of Virginia, then did his residency at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He grew up in Richmond, and his family is still there, so he wanted to stay close to home when accepting a job. An opportunity opened at Urology of Virginia in Virginia Beach, and he’s been there ever since.
Urology of Virginia specializes in urologic surgery. The practice has evolved over the years that Dr. Liu has been there, forming one centralized practice from several other practices in the area. “We’ve grown in the number of physicians we have, and we’ve grown more cohesive as a unit instead of being three different practices sharing ancillary services,” he says. “We have our own ambulatory surgical center, we have imaging, we have laboratory studies, and there are a lot of fellowship-trained physicians here that focus on very specific aspects of urology. There are a lot of very talented people here, and we’ve been able to attract a lot of smart, young doctors, too. So, we have a very vibrant culture.”
For Dr. Liu, the best part of being a specialty surgeon in urology is the patient interaction—meeting with patients, getting to know them, taking care of specific problems, and seeing those patients get better. “The good thing with urology is that the problems we treat are very manageable and curable,” he says. “We see good results from our work and get to watch our patients recover and do well. So that’s really satisfying.”
A typical week for the doctor includes office hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and he’s in surgery on Tuesdays and Fridays. During office hours he’s meeting with patients, providing consultations and seeing follow-up patients. On Thursday mornings, he also does a lot of minor office surgeries such as endoscopic procedures and biopsies.
Dr. Liu notes that one of the good things about urology is the long-term relationships the doctors are able to enjoy with their patients. “Urology is not like other surgical specialties where you fix one problem and then you never see the patient again. We’re geared toward men’s and women’s health, so we see our patients for extended periods of time and follow them through their issues.”
On the downside, urology is not immune to cancer. “We have different types of urologic cancer,” says Dr. Liu. “But at the same time, many of the forms of urological cancer are also very treatable and curable. When you look at other types of cancer such as lung cancer, brain cancer or pancreatic cancer, a lot of times once those cancers are discovered, they are often advanced and are difficult to cure. Then you have end-of-life issues you need to discuss with the patients. With urology, a lot of the cancers we catch in the early detection stage, and there are a lot of treatment options. Many of our patients do well with their treatments and are able to go on to have a normal life.”
In addition to being a surgeon of urology, Dr. Liu is also a Diplomate of the American Board of Urology and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He is a member of the American Urological Association, Société Internationalé d’Urologie, Tidewater Urologic Association, Virginia Medical Society and the Chesapeake Medical Society.