Reality star, star DO

From suturing to bling: How Gabriel Chiu, DO, built an empire off and on-screen

Gabriel Chiu, DO, has been practicing plastic surgery for two decades. In that time, he has also become a father and reality TV star, appearing on the hit Netflix show “Bling Empire.”


For a plastic surgeon and reality TV star, Gabriel Chiu, DO, is as real as it gets. Not only does he run a renowned plastic surgery practice in the aesthetics and cosmetics mecca of Beverly Hills, California, he also co-stars in the wildly successful Netflix reality hit TV series “Bling Empire.” Though “Bling Empire,” a spinoff of the popular movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” focuses mostly on Dr. Chiu’s personal life outside of his practice, Dr. Chiu’s love for his career is apparent and deserving of its own television show.

“I’ve been practicing plastic surgery for 20 years now and I’ve been very happy, and quite frankly, I love what I do so much that it’s basically living out my dreams,” he said.

To be expected, Dr. Chiu’s schedule is quite busy, but on a chilly Southern California afternoon I happened to catch him on his lunch break for an interview, and at one point I teared up a little during our chat (read on for the reason). 

The road to plastic surgery

Like many of us, Dr. Chiu’s specialty of choice changed throughout the course of medical school. “When I first looked into med school, I was interested in being a pediatrician since age 14, then got accepted into Western [University] with the intention to be a pediatrician, but like most med students, I changed my mind and went from wanting to go into pediatrics to radiology to gastroenterology, and finally decided to go into general surgery.”

Gabriel Chiu, DO, and his wife, Christine Chiu

During his general surgery residency, Dr. Chiu got some exposure to plastics and viewed it as “a perfect trifecta of combining art, surgery and psychology.” A photographer since the age of 12, Dr. Chiu has won several awards for his photographs, so as a creative person, plastic surgery felt like a natural fit for him.

However, because a plastic surgery elective rotation was not an option for him at his residency program, he pursued and managed to arrange a two-week rotation at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) during his holiday vacation time, where he worked with the fellowship program director, Sherman Leis, DO. During those two weeks, he made an impression on the attendings. He was later accepted into the fellowship program.

His mantra during fellowship: “I have two years to learn as much as I can and absorb as much as I can in all the different aspects of plastic surgery, and I’m going to eat and breathe plastic surgery all this time.”

His tip for anyone wanting to stand out in residency: Go the extra mile. “I think it’s important to learn the general foundation of a specialty, but there has to be a reason why you love doing what you’re doing and just follow that desire and eventually good things will happen when you follow your dreams and desires instead of trying to fit a mold.”

Private practice

After fellowship, Dr. Chiu joined a group and worked as an employee before venturing on his own. But, like most of us in medicine, business wasn’t his strong suit, especially because the business side of medicine isn’t emphasized in our training. He credits his wife, Christine Chiu, sharing that he wouldn’t have been able to venture out on his own and start a plastic surgery practice without her support. He offers the following advice for physicians on running a successful practice in any specialty: 

“Have good people around you who can support and provide checks and balances, whether that’s an office manager or spouse, and of course training staff to support the framework you’ve developed.”

For example, if you take insurance, that would involve having a biller. If you have a cash practice, then have a bookkeeper or accountant. He also emphasizes the importance of working with good people who will speak up and support one another in order to remain on the same page with the same goals/focus in mind.

And when it comes to running a successful plastic surgery practice, he can’t emphasize enough the importance of building a social media presence: “The trend, at least in the last five to eight years, is that you have to have a social media presence of any kind. It’s just the way that marketing and ads are being directed for services … Nowadays, you either have a personal reference [for referrals] or most people will go to social media.”

Dr. Chiu is no stranger to social media, especially since he became a part of a hit reality TV series. When searching for something to watch on Netflix, one of the first things you see pop up on the screen is the Netflix Top 10 shows, and for many of us who identify as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI), there was a sense of pride to see “Bling Empire” shoot to the #1 spot soon after season three was released in October 2022.

Dr. Chiu’s wife, Christine, has proposed and sold other TV show pilots with the same producer and company behind “Bling Empire.” When the producer came to the couple to ask them to be on the show, they agreed to be part of the cast because one of the show’s goals was to increase diversity with an AAPI-centric cast. 

“We’re proud of the show for the fact it’s the first all-AAPI cast and shows the diversity of API (Asian Pacific Islanders) – [for example,] not everyone is Chinese, we all have different nuances…the history and culture is very different and we all fit together in a collective fashion. Bringing this [focus on diversity] first to the screen, not only diversity in mainstream Hollywood, but also diversity among API … is one of the main reasons I agreed to be part of it,” he said.

Show addresses infertility struggles

One aspect of Dr. Chiu’s personal life that the show focuses on is infertility and undergoing many years of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Infertility is generally not a topic that is openly discussed in the medical nor AAPI community. I recall a scene during season one of Bling Empire where Dr. Chiu and Christine were speaking to their reproductive endocrinologist about the hardships of going through IVF.

As someone who was also going through the struggles of IVF at the time, seeing them openly talk about this topic felt extremely validating and less isolating. When asked of the response he has received since opening up about such a vulnerable topic, Dr. Chiu emphasizes the toll infertility takes on those going through it.

“It took us 10 years of trying before finally having my son,” he said. “Would we do it again? Well, yes, he’s well worth it and more, but it’s unfortunate that not a lot of people talk about it, but people DM (direct message) me and thank [us] for bringing it out.”

And what made me tear up was when Dr. Chiu said the following statement, which hit home about feeling alone in the IVF process:

“When [people go through infertility] issues, it [makes] them feel less than a whole person,” he said. “The fact is, you are trying to do more than what a single person can take on and whatever factors may be involved. They’re burning the candle at both ends and have a lot of stressors in their lives, whether it’s their career or personal stressors.”

When couples are undergoing IVF together, the process can increase the tension between the two partners, Dr. Chiu noted.

“I think the best thing is for the two partners to accept that they both have a contribution to this problem and when you can come to those terms and accept that you are also involved in this, then you can at least shed that stress from your partner’s list of stressors and hopefully be able to discuss ways to become successful in having a child,” Dr. Chiu continued. 

So, what’s next for Dr. Chiu?

“I’m trying to do [plastic surgery] as long as I can and I think [what’s next] is enjoying the other aspects of my life such as being a father, a husband. Christine has devoted her time and stopped her career (and was making more than I was when we first met) in order to help me live out my dreams, and it’s about time I reciprocate and [support] her further. Not only support, but push her to do the things that she has always wanted to do … Again, I’ve been able to do what I love for 20 years and if it had to change, or when it does change, I’ll be happy I was able to do it and be able to let her experience the same joy in fulfilling her dreams.”

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