AAPI Heritage Month Physician Spotlight: Strength, Leadership, and Impact

Celebrating the contributions and journeys of AAPI physicians from our community

May 29, 2024 · Dox Spotlight

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we celebrate the unique journeys and contributions of AAPI physicians. Their experiences reflect the diversity and resilience of the medical community, highlighting the importance of representation, mentorship, and cultural understanding. These stories not only honor their dedication and achievements but also underscore the ongoing efforts needed to create a more inclusive and supportive environment in healthcare for future generations. Learn from our conversations with Tina Chu, MD, FAAP, Pediatrics; Clarence Kong, MD, NREMT, DipABRSM, Emergency Medicine; and Timothy Lee, MD, MS, Family Medicine & Clinical Informatics.

How has your journey been as an AAPI physician?

Dr. Chu - The path towards becoming an AAPI physician has not always been easy, but it has been rewarding. Throughout my medical training, I was often mistaken as a nurse or a pharmacist – perhaps because of my gender, ethnicity, or height. I have been frequently asked "how old are you?" despite being an attending physician and practicing for the past 5 years. I can’t help but wonder if I was a different race or gender if these types of questions would still be asked. Despite these barriers and perceptions, it has been inspiring that the field of medicine has continued to expand in diversity and show that doctors can be all different races, ethnicities, and genders. Hopefully, by the end of my journey and career in medicine, it will be the norm for the medical field to be reflective of the diversity of the patient population we serve.

Dr. Kong - My journey as an AAPI physician has been both challenging and fulfilling. I am currently an incoming pain management fellow physician at Eastern Virginia Medical School. This role marks a significant milestone in my career, allowing me to specialize further and contribute to a crucial area of medicine. My background as an EMT and my diverse training have equipped me with unique insights and skills, which I look forward to applying in my fellowship.

Dr. Lee - As a male identifying Asian-American training during the early 2010s, I can recognize that I had a level of privilege in being rather easily accepted into the ranks of physicians culturally and socially. The aspect of my physician journey that required more self-reflection and growth was into the role of leader. Specifically, in shedding the feelings of imposter syndrome when in positions of leadership. There was an article last year shedding light that there are a disproportionate amount of Asian physicians compared to the general population of the US, and several have attained mid-level leadership roles (think department leads, associate C-suite maybe, etc.) but a disproportionately few top C-Suite positions are held by those of AAPI heritage. The challenge has been in shedding this barrier in my own mind and learning to accept that I am not only a good worker bee but I can and should be able to voice my opinions. My training and abilities can be leveraged into meaningful influence as a leader, not just a good employee. Living this out has taken years of self-work and incredible mentorship by other Asian American leaders in the industry.

What can we do to support AAPI individuals across practice and specialty settings?

Dr. Chu - Two key ways to help support AAPI individuals are 1) to ensure adequate AAPI representation among the pipeline of medical trainees and healthcare providers and 2) having no tolerance for hate crimes towards AAPI individuals and providers. Having a healthcare provider who understands the customs, language, and traditions of AAPI individuals can create better care and understanding. An AAPI patient may ask about the "hot" or "cold" nature of different foods and question if these types of foods can cause or treat the common cold. Understanding AAPI cultures helps identify the root of different maladies and ultimately help treat not only a patient’s specific disease but the individual underneath. Additionally, the rising rate of hate crimes against AAPI individuals in verbally and physically abusive ways during the pandemic was disappointing and abhorrent. There should be no tolerance for this kind of hatred towards other human beings - no matter their race, ethnicity, or gender.

Dr. Kong - Employee engagement groups to speak about DEI and AAPI issues are essential. These groups can provide a platform for AAPI individuals to share their experiences, challenges, and successes, fostering a supportive community within the workplace.

Dr. Lee - I think things like the digital health fellowship are a great start at this! Opportunities to get involved in meaningful feedback and voicing our opinions are opportunities for representation. Also, when looking at metrics to measure, it might be interesting to see an analysis of where leadership and advancement opportunities fall between different races and ethnicities. Just raising awareness of trends is helpful. Finally, given Doximity has such a huge impact on the networking and communication between clinicians, it might be a really great opportunity to have some sort of mentoring program and ability to have networking/programming for Asian Americans (and other ethnic groups).

Can you share a personal story that highlights the significance of this month in your life or career?

Dr. Chu - I was initially inspired to go into medicine and become a doctor because my mother was a pediatrician in China. After moving to the United States as an immigrant and as the mother of two young kids, she decided to not continue medicine and switched to become a cancer researcher instead. As with many immigrant households, sacrifices of parents, such as career dreams, were made to give better opportunities for their younger children. As I grew up, I genuinely enjoyed helping others while also having a passion and curiosity for science. Medicine was the perfect bridge between these two passions. To this day, I love what I do as a general pediatrician – helping families and children be their healthiest selves. Being an AAPI physician has helped fulfill not only my dreams but honor the hard work and sacrifices my mother made as a young immigrant in the United States.

Dr. Kong - My father is the strongest person I know – moving to the United States without any support and providing for my family financially and emotionally. After returning home from work, he would ask me about my day while applying a hot pack to his neck. Although he would never verbalize his problems, I knew that he was suffering from chronic cervical pain. My father was forced to retire early because of worsening cervical pain to the point where he was unable to work his twelve-hour shifts. His dedication and strength inspired me to pursue medicine and to specialize in pain management so I can help others regain their quality of life.

Dr. Lee - One thing that has been on my mind at length is the disparity and difference in care recommended for the broader US population (think USPSTF) between patients of Asian descent and the general population. Because so much of modern western (US) medicine is based on research on a population of predominantly white, usually male, usually aged 18-65, there are gaps in recommendations. For example, there is a very significant incidence in GI conditions like hepatitis B in Korean immigrants, but it is not routinely taught in medical schools which leads to missed screenings/diagnoses early on and I know several cases of young patients with chronic Hep B that led to liver cancer and mortality. That's what AAPI heritage month means to me.

Are there any organizations you would like to highlight? (optional)

Dr. Chu - Stop AAPI Hate - https://stopaapihate.org/

How is Doximity helping you?

Dr. Chu - Doximity has always been at the forefront of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. The effort that Doximity has placed in highlighting underrepresented and diverse races, ethnicities, and genders across medicine has made a true impact on the field of medicine. Whether coming across a Doximity Newsfeed article about the unique backgrounds of doctors to using Doximity Dialer and its built-in interpreter line, Doximity has helped me expand my view of the diverse representation in medicine and helped communicate with patients of all backgrounds.

Dr. Kong - Doximity has been helpful in highlighting social issues.

Dr. Lee - Doximity is really allowing me to get my ideas out into a place with meaningful dialogue and the potential to impact healthcare with really incredible products. Also, The Doximity Digital Health Fellowship has been a great place to network with like-minded change makers.

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