Tiffany Pong, PA

Tiffany Pong is a physician assistant at the UCSF Spine Center and focuses on the area of minimally invasive spine procedures. She joined the UCSF team in 2013, after graduating from the PA program at Shenandoah University. She is an avid field hockey player and a former youth Hong Kong national team player. She loves to eat her way around the world with her husband Drew.


When did you know you wanted to go into the medical field?

I cannot remember a time before wanting to work in medicine. My parents prioritized travel to allow my brother and I to see the world at a young age. Visiting developing countries like Cambodia and India made a lasting impact on me. Seeing first-hand the universal aims of happiness and health cemented in me a desire to give back through medicine.

At the University of Michigan, I studied in Health Sciences Scholars Program, a learning community oriented around healthcare. I was introduced to professions beyond the medical doctor. I realized that health care is afforded by a multidisciplinary team, each member playing an important role. The role of physician assistant best suited me.


Why did you choose spinal disorders as your specialty?

I majored in brain, behavior and cognitive science and researched gait patterns in children with Down’s syndrome and spina bifida. I really enjoyed working with that patient population. When I matriculated to PA school, the surgical specialty was attractive because I could provide patients with immediate improvement in their quality of life. I could see my patients through their entire path to recovery.


What’s the most interesting thing about the human spine?

There is so much we do not know about the human spine yet. A spinal cord or nerve injury can be so devastating, yet neuro-regenerative research continues to progress.  For all the talk of its fragility, the human spine is resilient. We frequently see patients who defy our expectations.


As an essential member of a patient’s health care team, what kind of support do you provide?

The most crucial role I play is patient education. The thought of spine surgery is often overwhelming to patients. They frequently return home after visiting with the surgeon, failing to recall the conversation. That is where I step in. I take time to explain the procedure, the recovery process, and to align expectations.  By patiently answering their questions, I aim to make the thought of surgery less daunting.


What’s the best part of working at UCSF?

At UCSF you’re working among the elite providers and seeing the most difficult cases.  As a research hospital, we have early access to the newest research and techniques. The environment elevates us all to be our best selves.


What’s the most common question you get from your patients?

What can I do if I do not want surgery? When surgery is not urgent, we encourage our patients to pursue conservative management before considering surgery. Optimizing physical therapy, steroid injections, and managing pain are the mainstays of our specialty and should be maximized before attempting surgery, with rare exception.