Puxiao Cen, MD, is an AdventHealth cardiologist and eighth-generation physician who blends science and art with Chinese culture into her medical practice, creating a unique whole-person experience. She uses her artistic ability to draw for her patients to help them understand what’s going on in their bodies. In addition, her culture has taught her focus, mindfulness, and staying present with patients, which creates a connection. The art-science-culture combination allows Dr. Cen’s patients to feel more comfortable opening up and talking about complex medical issues.
“I give them exercises to do, if they choose, from the time they get to the exam room to the time I walk in to check their vitals,” said Dr. Cen. “By being mindful of patients’ stress and giving them an outlet to refocus and calm their nerves, I get a truer sense of their blood pressure and overall health so I can better serve their needs.”
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Month as well as National High Blood Pressure Education Month, and there is a trend among this population related to Dr. Cen’s field of study, cardiology. According to research recently published by the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease rates are rising faster for Asian-Americans than for Caucasian adults but do differ among subgroups. Overall, cardiovascular disease rates were highest among Filipino Americans, and high blood pressure (i.e., hypertension) increased more quickly for nearly all subgroups (except Japanese) than it did among Caucasian adults.
The Tools to Heal
Dr. Cen, who was born in China, strongly believes her Eastern culture as well as art and scientific knowledge give her the tools to heal through education, lifestyle medicine, and whole-person care.
Dr. Cen’s father, an orthopedic surgeon and a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as well as an artist, became the driving force in shaping her life. Growing up, she watched him operate, listened to him speak with patients, and went to the hospital after school rather than going home alone. She also read books he suggested, which he read along with her, forming their own father-daughter book club.
“I was shy with self-described limited communication skills,” said Dr. Cen, an experienced invasive cardiologist at AdventHealth Medical Group Cardiology. “Discussing those books with my dad gave me confidence and taught me about people. Without those skills, I would not have been able to practice medicine.”
When she was 13, Dr. Cen’s father enrolled her in adult art classes, where she developed her exceptional artistic talent, which would become a confidence builder. Many of Dr. Cen’s paintings decorate the corridors and waiting areas of her practices, offering a calm, warm feeling to an otherwise sterile environment.
Gateway to the Human Experience
“Science and studying disease are important; however, the humanities are the gateway to the human experience and crucial in the process of healing,” said Dr. Cen. “I could use a photograph, but it personalizes it for my patients when I start with a blank page and draw out their heart, showing them where the blockages are and how they can be bypassed. This artistic form of customized care simplifies the process for my patients by giving them a roadmap of their journey through surgery and has a calming influence.”
Over time, she’s noticed her art, whether it’s the surgery sketches she draws or the paintings she creates for her hallways, also breaks down barriers with patients.
“It creates an environment that is warmer and less sterile,” said Dr. Cen. “When patients relax, their blood pressure and heart rate are lower, and they can almost forget it’s a doctor’s visit. At this moment, my science education, the time I take to explain how the body works, my ability to focus, and the art I create all blend to give patients a better health care visit.”
Lifestyle Medicine as Part of Eastern Culture
During her decades as a cardiologist and more than 20-year history with AdventHealth, Dr. Cen has experienced many changes in health care, including better technology, more women in cardiology, and the widespread use of lifestyle medicine.
“I saw how my father and grandparents practiced medicine, and I saw how they used lifestyle treatment to treat disease and gained a deep understanding through my culture before it became commonplace,” said Dr. Cen. “I talk to my patients about the importance of eating plant-based, whole foods to maintain a healthy gut. In addition, staying active through exercise is important for the body and mind, and activities like spending time with pets and meditating can be rejuvenating for the soul.”
Nurturing the Next AAPI Generation
Her family legacy continues here in the U.S. with her son, Steven, now a ninth-generation physician, who is nearing the end of his residency at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. Both mother and son hope to continue the teachings of their family by bringing a lifestyle-medicine approach to help their patients thrive.
“It’s all about taking care of our bodies to make sure that it takes care of us,” said Dr. Cen.