Diversity and Inclusion Spotlight: Dr. Andrew Tang

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Andrew Tang, MD, FACS, is medical director of Trauma for Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and an associate professor of surgery with the University of Arizona Department of Surgery's Division of Trauma, Critical Care, Burns, and Emergency Surgery.

Where are you from?

I was born in China. I came to the States when I was 10 years old. We first lived in Los Angeles, when I was in 5th grade to 9th grade. Then we moved to Tucson due to my father’s job. After finishing college and medical school at the UofA, I went back to LA for my surgical residency and fellowships. I’ve been back to the UofA as a faculty member for the past 10 years.

What brought you to Tucson?

My first round in Tucson, I was in the 9th grade, and that was due to my parents. My dad’s job relocated us from Los Angeles. The second time around was our own choice. I was married, and my wife is also from Tucson. When we both finished our professional training in L.A. – she’s a lawyer – we were looking for a place that has a good standard of living, was friendly, had good weather, where traffic isn’t too bad. So, we decided that Tucson was a great option. Plus, for family – her parents have been in Tucson for 30+ years. Her dad works as professor at the UofA. It made it a fairly easy choice to move back.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

It, to me, means everyone, regardless of our differences – and there are a thousand differences among everyone and from each other – everyone is recognized for the intrinsic fabric of who they are as a person. It means looking at the commonalities among people, but at the same time, celebrating the differences.

What makes you diverse?

Throughout my life, I’ve had a lot of experiences. When we first moved to LA, I was a kid from outside, and I didn’t speak English at that time. Coming here as a 10-year-old, that was challenging. I went to a school that was largely Hispanic and African American, so that was a great exposure, a great learning experience for me. I came from a very homogenous society, and now we ended up in a place where most people are very different. Then, moving to Tucson, of course, the demographics changed again. But I think every step along the way, those experiences, really contribute to who I am and how I think.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome on your journey?

I think the first one was obvious: when I came here as a 10-year-old, I didn’t speak a word of English. So, the language barrier was the biggest obstacle at that time. It was fairly easily overcome because, you know, kids learn fast, and I worked pretty hard. I think I overcame the language problem pretty quickly, within a couple years. Of course, growing up, we’ve all had our taste of racism and whatnot. I experienced that both in Los Angeles as well as here. And I think as people get older, it’s more muted. It’s not to say that it’s not there; I think adults are just a little more tactical about how those biases are expressed. Finding differences seems to be something people do naturally, especially during conflicts. Finding commonalities sometimes takes more work, more insight, and more willingness to give oneself. So, I think it’s important we recognize that collectively and then we do whatever we can, no matter how small an impact it is, to better our society by bringing awareness to diversity, embracing everyone for their character, and speaking about the beauty all these differences bring to us.

What strengths do you feel like your diversity has taught or given you?

All of these different experiences and exposures to different people along the way have given me a lot, both from a racial standpoint and a socioeconomic standpoint. In the 40-something years of my life, our family has gone through a large portion of the socioeconomic spectrum. My dad was a student supporting a family of four on his postgrad salary, and now we’re a fairly comfortable upper-middle-class family. We’ve kind of gone through that whole spectrum, and I think having gone through that, as well as the different exposures in between, gave me a lot of perspective on people, appreciation of people, understanding of people. That’s probably one of the attributes I’m most proud of, that I can understand and relate to people pretty well.

What is the importance of diversity and inclusion in surgery?

Our department has actually been pretty good about embracing diversity and inclusion. But I do think there’s still a ways to go for medicine as a whole. The profession has made great strides in recent years in attempting to equalize gender and racial representation and achieve equality in compensation. But it’s still not ideal yet. I believe medical competency is the foundation of what patients look for, but on top of that, there are patients who have added preference on other factors such as gender, race, sexual identity, etc. Why not fill our profession with competent and diverse providers to give every patient a comprehensive experience?

How do you hope to see the field of surgery become more diverse and inclusive?

I think surgery has this reputation of being a fairly masculine specialty filled with dominant personalities. That certainly doesn’t have to be the case, and frankly, I don’t think it’s necessarily the truth. Unfortunately, I’ve certainly had colleagues over the years who in some ways changed their personalities in order to adapt to this field. Some felt like they had to be more abrasive, more dominant, to feel like they belong in the field of surgery. And I think that’s a result of the lack of feeling of inclusion and acceptance. One can be a soft-spoken, gentle person and maintain those wonderful qualities and still be a great surgeon with the heart of a lion. It’s a shame that I’ve had colleagues over the years who have molded themselves in order to fit. In fact, it’s our society and profession as a microcosm within our society that has to embrace differences and changes.

Photos: Ruvini Samarasinha, MPH