UChicago's Inaugural Asians in Medicine Conference

by James Zhang, Helen Wei, Daniel Ahn, Namrata Garg, and Aaditi Naik, MS1s

On May 18th, Pritzker's chapters of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) and South Asian Medical Student Association (SAMSA) hosted the University of Chicago's inaugural Asians in Medicine Conference. The theme for this year’s conference was “Advocacy and Allyship.”  Twenty speakers and 55 medical students from the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Loyola, Rush, and the University of Illinois were in attendance and participated in discussions around how to advocate for Chicago Asian American communities and to ally with other communities of color.

The conference featured keynote lectures from Karen Kim, MD, Director of the Center for Asian Health Equity at the University of Chicago, and Illinois State Representative Theresa Mah of the Illinois 2nd District, the first Asian American state representative in Illinois. Additionally, attendees heard from a panel of community leaders from various non-profit organizations that serve marginalized Asian Americans throughout Chicago, including the HANA Center, the Indo-American Center, the Center for Asian Health Equity, and the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute. During lunch, attendees spoke with several Asian American physician leaders from across Chicago about their unique journeys through medicine. The conference ended with small groups on topics including allyship between Asian communities and other marginalized communities, building trust with minority patients, and navigating Asian American identity in medicine. The Asians in Medicine Conference was the culmination of a year-long effort to not only learn more about Asian American healthcare disparities, but also to initiate much-needed conversations amongst Asian American medical students and residents about facing microaggressions from patients, mental health struggles, and other challenges in the healthcare system.


Dr. Karen Kim giving her keynote lecture on Asian health disparities.

Based on surveys from attendees taken before the conference, 60% respondents noted that this was the first event specifically centered on Asian American issues that they had ever attended. Of all respondents, 49% reported that the support available for Asian American students from institutional diversity programs at medical schools was neutral, unsupportive, or very unsupportive. Over 50% of respondents reported "No" to "Does your medical school curriculum require any coursework that includes topics pertaining to Asian American health?". The Pritzker School of Medicine was the only school represented in the group that responded "Yes,” likely due to the inclusion of Asian health disparities in the Health Disparities curriculum.

During and after the conference, there were overwhelmingly positive responses from all of the attendees and speakers. This demonstrated that Asian American medical students throughout Chicago want to learn more about Asian American health and desire opportunities to connect with each other and Asian American faculty. In post-conference surveys, 100% of respondents said that the conference was either valuable or extremely valuable. 88% either agreed or strongly agreed to feeling more empowered to talk about their experiences and challenges as Asian Americans after they attended the conference. 87% either agreed or strongly agreed that other students, not just Asian Americans, would benefit from attending the conference, and 73% stated that they were more likely to initiate conversations around identity, advocacy, and allyship. The following includes feedback from some of the attendees about the Asians in Medicine conference:

"The conversations from the breakout sessions were really valuable, because I will use the dialogue we had to self-reflect in times when I'm not sure how to interpret another person's actions that are borderline micro-aggressions. It was helpful to hear the internal dialogue of my peers in these situations, and to feel comforted by the fact that other people go through the same internal conflict as me."

"I hope to bring this much needed conversation to the Asian American community at my medical school, in hopes of finding ways that we can advocate for more marginalized Asian American patients and be allies with other communities of color."

"I feel more comfortable advocating for specific issues that my Asian American community is affected by. Also, knowing that language is such a huge barrier for many Asian immigrants, I hope to hone and use my language skills to build a connection."

For many Asian-American medical students throughout Chicago, this conference was a watershed opportunity to come together with their peers and discuss the challenges facing all our communities. This event could not have been possible without the generosity and mentorship of Dr. Monica Vela and Dr. Karen Kim, along with sponsorship by the Pritzker School of Medicine Office of Multicultural Affairs, University of Chicago Biological Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Division, Center for Asian Health Equity, and Indian-American Medical Association. We also thank the following speakers for sharing their insight with our attendees Dr. Karen Kim, Representative Theresa Mah, Inhe Choi, Dhara Puvar, Selma D'Souza, Amy Wang, Dr. Seeba Anam, Dr. Vikrant Jagadeesan, Dr. Wei Wei Lee, Dr. Kathleen Yang-Clayton, Dr. Grace Koo, Tae Yeon Kim, Apoorva Ram, Daniel To, Dr. Marshall Chin, Dr. Shikha Jain, Dr. Kamran Mirza, Dr. Mahesh Patel, and Dr. John Yoon. The success of this conference inspires hope that nuanced conversations around being an Asian American in medicine, advocating for underserved communities, and allying with other communities may continue so that students can work on improving healthcare for all.