As a Black surgical trainee, the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons (SAAS) is important to me for numerous reasons. SAAS moves allyship from just a word to an action. Especially in the wake of events from the last two years placing a microscope on the disparities in this country both in the medical field and beyond, allyship is more important than ever.1 As a profession, we cannot claim that we value diversity, equity, and inclusion without taking steps toward making it a reality. One key mechanism to increase equity for minorities in the surgical field and at the leadership level is ensuring that diverse faces have a platform and a voice at the national level.2 This starts by paving the way of future generations to succeed and that is the key to the SAAS mission: “promoting underrepresented populations in any arena of academic surgery.”
Mentorship is a cornerstone of the organization. We know that minority trainees are less likely to have mentorship, which is pivotal for a career in academic surgery.3 Because so many influential leaders in surgery participate in the SAAS and the meetings, membership allows junior faculty, trainees, and students the ability to meet and obtain advice in a one-on-one fashion. The special aspect of mentorship through SAAS is that members have made a pledge that diversity is important to them. A mentee can enter these relationships knowing that there is a shared commitment to the underserved. This takes away some of the anxiety that young minorities may feel seeking out guidance elsewhere. That uneasiness that all minorities carry that someone may say the wrong thing or make the wrong assumption is alleviated. SAAS is where you can feel at home. Although our struggles may be different based on our backgrounds, I and other members can acknowledge and collaborate on potential solutions. SAAS mentors from all backgrounds not only guide and sponsor these young people but learn and grow to become more understanding and tolerant from the relationship as well. By getting to know my Asian peers, mentees, and mentors, I have become aware of my own blind spots and in turn become a better colleague and doctor.
In addition, SAAS sponsors scholarships, research awards, and visiting professorships to recognize the efforts of young surgeons. Research programs and projects that have a particular focus on the Asian and Asian American experience that may not be emphasized at other national organizations have a special place at SAAS. There are problems that uniquely affect Asian physicians and patients that require national attention: health outcome disparities, upward mobility in the workplace, xenophobia, and microaggressions to name a few examples.4, 5 SAAS may be the first place that these issues are welcomed, listened to, and acted upon. This in turn can allow amplification into the broader surgical world.
SAAS also exposes all surgeons to the history of Asian American Surgeons in this country and the impact they have had and continue to have. Other majority-culture-lead surgical societies have not historically emphasized the contributions of minority surgeons in this country. It is through SAAS that we can ensure that the trailblazers in academic surgery that are of Asian descent are recognized such as Quan Duh, Herbert Chen, Tracy Wang, Jennifer Tseng, and many others.
SAAS highlights the diversity within diversity. It is a wonderful organization that allows you to learn and grow in all facets of your career in academic surgery. Membership creates a safe space and many opportunities for young surgeons to be mentored and create a dynamic social network. I have met great surgeon mentors and cultivated fruitful collaborations and friendships thanks to SAAS and cannot recommend the organization enough.
- Ramirez-Valles J, Breton E, Chae DH, et al. The COVID-19 Pandemic: Everything Old Is New Again in Public Health Education. Health Educ Behav 2020; 47(4):501-503.
- Nakayama DK. Asian Americans in leadership positions in academic surgery. Ann Surg 2012; 255(3):583-8.
- Keshinro A, Butler P, Fayanju O, et al. Examination of Intersectionality and the Pipeline for Black Academic Surgeons. JAMA Surg 2022.
- Chao GF, Emlaw J, Chiu AS, et al. Asian American Pacific Islander Representation in Outcomes Research: NSQIP Scoping Review. J Am Coll Surg 2021; 232(5):682-689.e5.
- McMurtry CL, Findling MG, Casey LS, et al. Discrimination in the United States: Experiences of Asian Americans. Health Serv Res 2019; 54 Suppl 2:1419-1430.