While the 2020 Society of Asian Academic Surgeons Annual Meeting was a far cry from the Hawaiian luau we were planning, SAAS members still enjoyed a successful virtual meeting Sept. 24-25, 2020, with three fabulous discussions and a keynote address given by Nancy Wang Yuen, PhD, on Asian American representation in Hollywood.
Here are a few highlights from the meeting:
Adapting to the COVID-19 Pandemic
In this session, we heard how different entities adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and worked toward racial justice.
In these challenging times where in-person exams could no longer be administered, Paris Butler, MD, MPH, the director of the American Board of Surgery, shared how the ABS drastically changed their testing methods to adjust to this new environment and the considerations that went into those decisions.
Tom Nasca, MD, MACP, the CEO of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, shared how the ACGME adapted their standards on oversight, residency duty hours and the well-being of trainees during the crisis and how they modified the accreditation process for residency and fellowship training programs.
Mark Mugiishi, MD, chief medical officer and chief health officer of the Hawaii Medical Service Association and associate chair of surgery at the University of Hawaii, shared how the pandemic resulted in an acceleration of many positive changes, such as the function of insurance companies as health organizations, the adoption of value-based payments, the growth of telehealth, and the move toward remote work. Mugiishi also emphasized that this is an opportunity for surgeons to take key clinical leadership roles in policy.
Finally, Jennifer Tseng, MD, MPH, the chair of surgery at the Boston University School of Medicine, reminded us that this is an opportunity for us, our departments and our organizations to reexamine our assumptions about race and our hidden biases and to think about how to address systemic racism, with particular attention to equality in recruitment practices, hiring and promotions.
Pearls and Pitfalls of the Virtual Interview
Interviewing for residency, fellowship and jobs can be a stressful and anxiety-provoking process. The COVID-19 pandemic adds a level of challenge as hospitals and training programs transition to the use of virtual interviews.
In the second session, panelists shared their advice in mastering this new communication format. Sophia McKinley, MD, EdM, a chief resident from Massachusetts General Hospital, began the session by sharing her tips for virtual fellowship interviews: optimizing the physical workspace for comfort, conducting a technology trial run to verify internet bandwidth, simulating the interview with a colleague and spending time to cultivate personal vision.
Sophie Dream, MD, an assistant professor of surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, discussed her experience with taking the general surgery certifying exam virtually. She highlighted that, although the format is now online, the certifying exam itself has not changed. She recommended against changing study plans and to, instead, focusing on choosing an exam location early and studying and practicing in that environment.
As a professor of surgery and program director of the Complex General Surgical Oncology Fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Elizabeth Grubbs, MD, stressed the importance of taking advantage of unscripted social events. Although the pandemic has made in-person socialization impossible, these virtual events still provide critical information on program personality and cohesion.
Finally, Sharmila Dissanaike, MD, chair and professor of surgery at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, presented her thoughts on the virtual interview process, underscoring the importance of attention to detail including confirming time zones and optimizing lighting. She also touched on the serious issue of disparities in the interview process, noting how the virtual interview process helps in some ways to level the playing field as it eliminates the financial and time-related cost of travel.
Reinventing Yourself Virtually
The third session was moderated by Linwah Yip, MD, and Tejal Brahmbatt, MD. Five speakers – Justin Dimick, MD; Ankush Gosain, MD, PhD; Andrew Lee, MD, PhD; Sandra Wong, MD, MS; and Feibi Zheng, MD, MBA – discussed the challenges of converting to digital-only communication as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dimick noted that, while we have all experienced a decrease in social interaction, some individuals are acutely vulnerable to this loss, particularly those who do not have professional networks. He called upon established surgeons and leaders to reach out to those without a professional community to create opportunities for virtual networking.
Wong noted that virtual meetings cannot be treated like in-person meetings and that “Zoom time is compressed time.” To take full advantage of the virtual meeting format, Lee recommended keeping meetings small and deliberately engaging all participants.
The panelists also discussed how the pandemic has highlighted opportunities for everyone to increase engagement in the larger surgical and medical communities. Zheng recommended social media as a way to reach people and places with whom you would otherwise not engage. Dimick echoed this sentiment and noted Twitter as a place to listen and learn from those outside of your bubble.
Gosain recommended other digital tools, such as Slack, that could be used to promote communication and organization within a research group. The session closed on a positive note: All panelists agreed that, while the spontaneity of interactions facilitated by in-person meetings is gone, at least for now, virtual meetings create the opportunity for intentionality.
A History of Asian American Representation in Hollywood and the Myth of the Model Minority
The meeting concluded with the keynote address, presented by Nancy Wang Yuen, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Biola University and author of the book, Reel Inequality.
An immigrant from Taiwan at age 5, Yuen recounted her experiences as a latchkey child learning about American culture through television. She discussed the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, and the dearth of Asian nominees and winners throughout Hollywood’s history. From The Simpsons to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Yuen emphasized how Asian representation in the media can influence how non-Asians perceive Asian culture, often to our detriment as unflattering Asian stereotypes continue to permeate American culture.
Yuen explained that people continue to view Asians as foreigners based on appearance and shared data that suggested that Asian American actress Lucy Liu – who was born and raised in Queens, a borough in New York City – was considered to be less American than white actress Kate Winslet, who is from England. Yuen also told stories of actors who were hired for using their “bad” Japanese accents, rather than their authentic ones, and who received more roles once they changed their Asian last names.
Finally, Yuen discussed the perception of Asians as the “model minority” and how seemingly positive stereotypes, such as being considered hard-working, polite or good at math, can have equally negative connotations, such as being considered boring, uncreative or unfit to be a leader. She stressed how stereotypes in general can be dangerous and how Hollywood should strive to recognize individuality and portray cultural complexity in order to dispel harmful stereotypes for good.