On May 1, Robert Ryu, MD, began his tenure as chair of radiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. A native of Carmel, CA, Ryu completed his radiology residency at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center. He established a long and distinguished career for himself as a doctor and educator at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He is also a prolific clinical scientist, having produced more than 130 original, peer-reviewed manuscripts. Ryu succeeds Edward Grant, MD, in the position.

Ryu recently spoke with HSC News about his career and what keeps him inspired.

What does becoming chair of radiology at the Keck School mean to you?

[laughs] You’re starting with an easy one. Well first off, I’m a proud graduate of this residency program. So having that background, I think, makes it all the more meaningful to me — that I have a real tie to this institution and to the program, and having a vested interest in seeing it thrive as much as it has and to continue into the future as well. I should also mention that I met my wife here at USC Radiology and so I also have a personal tie which makes it that much more meaningful.

What initially made you interested in science and medicine when you were younger?

I have to admit that I wasn’t that interested in medicine. I wanted to be a music and film major. I had a couple of older siblings though, who were physicians. And I think maybe there was a little bit of a reaction formation related to it — that I actually pushed away from what they were doing because I wanted to define myself. But it was probably late in college that I came around to the idea of marrying science with service. And the humanities aspect of it — you know film and music are about communication, really. They’re about conveying a feeling or an idea, really. And I think communication is a very important part of modern medicine.

What drew you to radiology and imaging?

I was on a medical student rotation at Metro General Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. And we had an hourlong session where one of the radiologists just started putting up plain films and would ask us what we thought. And it all sort of made complete sense to me from the very first time I started looking at imaging. The visual aspect of it was just very appealing to me. Maybe it goes back to my love of images and cinema and that kind of thing, but it really fell into place for me and I just loved it from the beginning. It felt very natural.

Are there any films that top your list of favorites?

I think the greatest film of all time is The Godfather. This is a joke in our household because whenever it’s on and I happen to be channel surfing, I just stop and watch the whole thing. I must have seen that movie 50 times if I’ve seen it once. And my wife invariably asks, “You’re watching it again?!

Who is someone you admire and why?

Probably the most obvious example would be my parents. Their narrative is a classic immigrant story. They came to the United States from Korea. They were poor college kids, and they came here and they did pretty well for themselves, I think — not so much for themselves, but as it relates to their children who have been very successful. We’re the recipients of all the luck in the world because we had parents who valued education. I could tell you story after story, ridiculous stories, of my parents coming to the United States and the amazing things that happened to them — the people they got to meet and the remarkable circumstances that they endured in order to give us every advantage.

How do you prefer to spend your off-time?

You know, my wife and kids come first. And that’s all the more valued right now since one of them is in college and the other is about to leave for college. Outside of family activities, I’m a huge hockey fan. I actually play hockey. This is a USC story, and it’s true: When I was a resident here, I played roller hockey on a parking lot that no longer exists. And the reason I started playing roller hockey was because Wayne Gretzky had taken the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals when I was a resident, and I got totally hooked on the game. So I started playing roller hockey, and eventually I taught myself how to ice skate. So now I play ice hockey all because I was a resident here at USC.

What is something about you that people might find surprising?

Hmmm … I don’t have any tattoos or piercings … maybe in this day and age, that would be surprising [laughs]. You know, I love live music, and I really like seeing obscure bands in really small venues.

Any favorite venues?

The Empty Bottle in Chicago is one of the great ones. Hi Dive in Denver is also great. I still have to figure out what the great ones are here in Los Angeles. I’m sure someone will clue me in.

— Kate Faye