Get Started

May 09, 2024

Surgeon Speaks with Angels in Anatomy

Dr. Alia Koch, DDS, MD, FACS, recently spoke with Ms. Patricia Prucnel’s Angels in Anatomy, a group of Holy Angels students who are interested in medical careers.


The guest speaker, who is a highly-regarded oral and maxillofacial surgeon from Columbia University, came to AHA at the request of Sarah David (’24), a family friend. David is currently co-president of Angels in Anatomy with Maggie Danahy.

After growing up and attending school in Demarest, Dr. Koch studied math and biomedical engineering at Tufts, and completed her graduate work and medical school at Columbia. She also graduated from dental school, and later went on to a residency at New York Presbyterian.

Angels in Anatomy Adviser Patricia Prucnel, Dr. Alia Koch, and AIA Co-Presidents Maggie Danahy and Sarah David.


“I changed my mind many times because I was exposed to so many different things,” she said, explaining that she is an accomplished pianist and avid tennis player. “Keep your mind open.”


She encouraged the Angels to increase the number of women who get involved in medical/surgical careers. Dr. Koch shared that she was the only woman in her group of residents.


“I think (male dominance in medicine) is starting to very slowly change, and it starts with you,” she said.


Dr. Koch mentioned having a key career opportunity rescinded when she announced that she was pregnant with her first child. After sharing the news with her mentor, he invited her to come to work for him. That choice changed her life.


“I love what I do,” she said.


The doctor discussed her craniofacial, cosmetic, corrective, trauma, and pathology surgeries. She amazed the students with “before and after” photos from the cases she discussed.


In one case, her patient’s jaws did not align properly. In another instance, an individual’s jaw was continuing to grow well into her adult years.


At the moment, three-D technology is a factor in the operating room, where Dr. Koch is able to use printed plates to perform corrective surgeries.


Dr. Koch noted that she is an associate professor of dental medicine (oral surgery) at Columbia University Medical Center, program director of NY Presbyterian/Columbia’s oral and maxillofacial surgery residency program, and director of LEAD Academy at NY Presbyterian. She is a diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Koch addressing Angels in Anatomy.


During her talk, the doctor mentioned the importance of being present.


“You’re dealing with what’s important at that time,” Koch said. “You can’t forget about work when you’re at home or home when you’re at work…Always do what’s right for the person in front of you.”


Dr. Koch shared her personal tips for career success, which include doing what you love, being flexible and persistent, and working hard.


“Make yourself known,” she added, recommending that the students accept externships and other opportunities to forge connections.


“Be accountable. You will make mistakes. Tell the truth,” she said, adding, “Learn from your mistakes.”


One student told Dr. Koch she plans to go into genetic research.


“Don’t get holed into one type of research,” the doctor advised. “Go with it, but if you don’t like it, don’t let it close the door for you.”