Empowering Better Health through Empathy

Anna Siu

Anna Siu, MPH ’14

Registered Dietitian, Weight Management Clinic at Michigan Medicine

What if listening could actually create better health outcomes? Registered dietitian and Michigan Public Health alumna Anna Siu has been working to defeat type 2 diabetes, driving real change for patients with this philosophy in mind: Listen. Anna has made a career of leveraging her natural empathetic traits to create positive health outcomes. “I’ve felt like I had the most impact when I could have a conversation with someone,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to end up in a setting where I could have enough time with someone to make a difference in their health, and do it in a way where that person felt heard and empowered to take charge of their health.”

I’ve felt like I had the most impact when I could have a conversation with someone.

Anna was drawn to Michigan Public Health because she knew it could offer her a holistic approach to the factors that impact health and nutrition that she was looking for. “Public health was a natural fit for me because it encompasses more than just nutrition. It’s about disease prevention and empowering those who already have diseases to manage and navigate them with a strong support network.”

After completing her Master of Public Health degree in Nutritional Sciences and then Michigan Public Health’s dietetic internship program, she became a registered dietitian in 2015, and started her career at Michigan Medicine’s Weight Management Clinic. She immediately connected with the people on the clinic’s team and the work they were doing as they dug deeper into obesity as a chronic disease, dispelling the misconception that it’s simply a willpower or discipline problem.

She began working closely with patients to practice and develop new habits, address and even re-address challenges, and adapt to new situations. “What’s particularly rewarding as a dietitian is to help patients with the process and the journey, she says. “Many people focus on the prize̶—a weight loss goal—but the gold really is in the learning because how else can you keep the weight off that you’ve worked so hard to lose?” She says that while the patients definitely had some things to learn, she discovered that it required a lot of listening from the dietitians to find the right solutions for each patient.

For a time, the California-native moved back to the west coast with her husband where she applied her experience working with a weight loss clinic in San Francisco, and with weight management groups at Kaiser Permanente, focusing on creating new systems to manage a chronic disease. But it wasn’t long before her Michigan roots called her back.

Last year, Anna received a phone call from Dr. Amy Rothberg, a mentor and former colleague from her time at Michigan Medicine, asking her to join a new endeavor called Rewind. The program is focused on reversing type 2 diabetes through safe weight loss and habit-changing. Rewind brings each patient onto a team, along with their doctor and coach. So, the Rewind patient becomes a "member" of the team, working in collaboration with their medical staff. 

Anna was glad to return to her former home, “Rewind’s mission is to defeat type 2 diabetes,” she says. “It was hard to say no to that. Everyone at Rewind truly stands by the mission of improving people’s health, one community at a time.” 

Equally driven by the opportunity to work with Dr. Rothberg again, Anna was also excited at the project’s emphasis on leveraging technology to engage more closely with her patients. “When I first joined Rewind, one of the common dilemmas I shared with the team was that many times I didn’t know what was happening in between patient appointments,” she says. “That’s where technology can help. We build curriculum so that our members are learning in between coaching sessions and those topics can be explored in sessions.”Using apps and virtual communication platforms, Anna could now check in on patients and address any challenges with the program and curriculum in real-time. She could chat with a member to coach them through a challenge, instead of waiting for their next session together.

As a coach, if I can create a safe environment amongst a team to make members feel comfortable sharing their struggles, it benefits everyone.

Most importantly for Anna is that the program puts into focus the idea of bringing communities together to support each other towards positive health outcomes. Rewind enables the team to leverage technology to enable real-time support networks.“People relate more to challenges than to successes,” she says. “As a coach, if I can create a safe environment amongst a team to make members feel comfortable sharing their struggles, it benefits everyone on the team and connects them in ways that the ‘wins’ simply cannot.” 

As a Rewind Dietitian Coach, Anna’s work encompasses a multitude of responsibilities in the fight to defeat type 2 diabetes. Still, she says a large part of what she does is simply to listen carefully and support the person first and foremost. “I’ve spent my whole career helping people with behavior change,” she says. “You can’t change someone’s behaviors if they are not ready to change. It really has to come from them, and it’s my top priority that members are getting the care and support they need to take action in their health.”