Gopika SenthilKumar and Nate Verhagen, medical students at the Medical College of Wisconsin, attended their first SAAS meeting last September in Hawaii.
For Gopika, the experience was a refreshing experience that she had not realized she was missing: “I had a moment of honest reflection with Nate during the SAAS 2022 annual conference. I told him what a relief it was to walk into a room and not worry about how those around me perceived me – did they assume that as an Asian I didn’t have to work hard to progress in academia? Did they assume I am not from the U.S.? Do they appreciate and support non-European descent immigrants, or will they think I’m too different or hold varying values to form a close connection with me? … I learned that this experience was not unique to me. A search for #SAAS2022 on Twitter shows an outpouring of participants who felt like they ‘blended in,’ had their ‘experiences validated,’ felt a true sense of ‘community and camaraderie,’ and ‘felt heard.’”
The two students found that the meeting offered a place, not only for trainees to present their research and form new, lasting relationships, but also was enlightening to attendees about the impact of being an outsider.
Nate reflected: “…I felt so close to my colleagues and truly felt a sense of belonging, despite being a minority in that setting. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that I was a minority at the conference. Not for a moment did I ask me the questions that Gopika conveyed above. Why was that? The answer seems to be that being a minority in the US goes so much further than being outnumbered at any given moment.”
We want to thank our membership for creating an environment that not only allows a safe space for our colleagues and trainees, but one that fosters discourse and understanding that will hopefully transform into lasting change for the next generation of academic surgeons.