Dr. Michael Heung - Restoring Balance in Patients

January 15, 2020

Michael Heung, MD, MS, Professor and Associate Division Chief for Clinical Affairs in the Division of Nephrology, provides both inpatient and outpatient care for patients with a wide variety of kidney diseases. In addition to treating patients, he spends his time studying acute kidney injury (AKI) including its complications, management, and prevention. Dr. Heung is a member of the Kidney Epidemiology and Cost Center and the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. He is also a member of the Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care, where he helped to develop the Vascular Tone Monitoring System (VATMOS), a wearable sensor that detects potential cardiovascular events and hypotension much earlier than the traditional cuff system.

Behind the Scenes with Dr. Michael Heung

Dr. Michael Heung

What is your research about?

My main area of research focus is acute kidney injury (AKI). My work has included characterizing its long-term complications, improving quality of care and management, and how to prevent it.

Dr. Heung has published over 90 articles including "Outpatient Dialysis for Acute Kidney Injury: Progress and Pitfalls” which was published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases.

Why does this area of research appeal to you?

AKI is, unfortunately, a very common complication among hospitalized patients – affecting up to one in every five adults admitted to the hospital. Despite being associated with significant morbidity and mortality, there is still much we do not know about AKI.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

The goal of my current research is to raise awareness and recognition around AKI and its risk factors. Ultimately, we hope to optimize efforts at AKI-prevention.

What are your clinical interests?

I have a broad range of interests within nephrology. On the outpatient end, I see patients in clinic with a variety of conditions, ranging from chronic kidney disease (CKD), to kidney transplantation, to glomerular diseases. On the inpatient side, I focus on critical care nephrology and provide consultation to patients in the intensive care setting.

How did you become interested in this area?

As a nephrologist, I’ve always been fascinated by human physiology, and the intensive care unit (ICU) is a place where we are constantly trying to restore balance to a patient’s physiology. I enjoy the complexity of the patient population as well as trying to interpret the steady stream of information generated in the ICU.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I have held some administrative roles over my career and these have provided an opportunity to make system-level changes to improve patient care. One particular effort that I am proud of was founding our institution’s continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) committee. This committee includes representatives from each of the five ICUs in which we perform CRRT (or continuous dialysis). Before forming this committee in 2008, each ICU operated CRRT in its own silo and we had very little standardization. By bringing all the units together, we were able to develop standard processes, create a far more robust quality improvement component, and conduct more efficient staff training.

This committee has continued to do great work, including guiding the institution through a major equipment change and publishing academic work on our CRRT experiences.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering specializing in nephrology?

Do it! There are so many great opportunities in the field of nephrology and I really believe we are entering a new golden age of innovation for the field. In recent years, we have had new therapeutics developed and are making strides in the area of personalized medicine. And in 2019, there was a major executive order that is leading to increased funding for kidney disease research and care.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Honestly, I love everything I do! Over the years, I feel like I’ve taken advantage of the amazing opportunities that Michigan has to offer. On the administrative end, it’s great to lead an intervention with sustained long-term benefit by applying quality improvement techniques. On the teaching end, our students and house officers are top-notch and they inspire me to keep learning every day. On the research end, I love working with big data and describing important clinical trends. And of course, clinically, there is nothing quite as special as providing individual care to a patient, whether that be in the office setting or in the ICU.

Who has inspired you the most?

During my career, the most influential person would be Dr. Frank “Chip” Brosius. He was the fellowship program director who recruited me to Michigan, who later became our division chief and gave me my first job as a faculty member. Throughout my career, he has always been there to give me solid advice and open doors of opportunity. On top of that, he’s just one of the nicest, most decent people you will ever meet! 

How do you balance your work and personal life?

This can be a challenge, and there is no question that an academic career requires commitment well outside an 8-5 workday. But I place a high priority on being available and present for my family (my wife and three kids – ages 12, 14, and 16). We try to eat dinner together every night, and at least once a week we have “family night” – a time to hang out (without devices!!) and play a game or read a book together.

We also love to get away as a family and travel the world. In the past few years, we have visited several other states and seven different countries. In Ann Arbor, I have stayed involved by coaching each of my kids in multiple sports – including basketball, soccer, and ice hockey over the years. Currently, I am one of the assistant coaches for the Ann Arbor Huron-Skyline Women’s Ice Hockey Team that my daughter plays for.

What five words best describe you?

Enthusiastic, optimistic, trustworthy, family-oriented, and committed.

More about Dr. Heung…

You can find all of his publications and read more about his research at Michigan Research Experts.

You can keep up with what he's doing on twitter @keepingitrenal.