Get to know Tiffany Son, MD, MS, an alumna of the University of Arizona College of Medicine. After completing her general surgery residency with the Department of Surgery in 2021, Dr. Son continued to work at Banner Gateway Medical Center, where she is pursuing her fellowship in minimally invasive, bariatric and advanced gastrointestinal surgery. After she finishes her fellowship this year, Dr. Son will return to Tucson to join Arizona Community Surgeons and work alongside her prior mentors, Thomas Harmon, MD, FACS; Katie S. Artz, MD, FACS, an alumna as well of University of Arizona COM-T; and Kelly Farve, MD, FACS, another alumna of the University of Arizona COM-T.
What brought you to the University of Arizona for your residency, and how did your time here prepare you for your current fellowship?
Well, it stemmed back from after high school. After high school I went to the University of Arizona for undergraduate to study molecular cellular biology, biochemistry, and molecular biophysics. I really liked UArizona and went there for medical school, too. I really didn’t know I wanted to do surgery, quite frankly, until the end of my third year of med school; I thought I wanted to be a cardiologist when I went into medical school.
I did away rotations at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, St. Joe’s here in Phoenix, and Florida Health at Orlando. I went all over the country, and I saw that at those places a lot of residents would go to different institutions to get their pediatric numbers or go to a different burn center to get their burn numbers. Well, one of the things that stuck out to me at UArizona to apply there for residency was that residents didn’t need to go to different places to fulfill a requirement. We didn’t go to a burn center; we are a burn center. We didn’t have to go do pediatric surgery anywhere else. We had pediatric surgeons. We go to places like Flagstaff, Tuba City or Cape Town, South Africa, to enhance our experiences, not because we’re lacking in them. That’s one of the reasons why I chose UArizona for residency.
I love talking about my experience at the University of Arizona. It definitely opened doors, and I felt like I came out as a safe and competent surgeon. The UArizona Department of Surgery takes pride in teaching residents to take ownership and treat patients like they are your family member, which coincides well with how they teach you good surgical technique. I felt that at our M&Ms — the conferences that we have every Wednesday reviewing our cases and complications — the department surgeons are not looking to punish you. They’re looking to make you better. I believe the department encouraged me to stay curious and to keep getting better. I believe that these have been important factors from the UArizona Department of Surgery that have set me up for fellowship and as a young surgeon.
What has it been like for you, as a woman, trying to break into a male-dominated field?
It’s very eye opening when people say women surgeons don’t get paid as much as male surgeons, even though we do the same job – what the heck is with that! A funny story is that when I wanted to do general surgery as a med student, I told my family, and even one of my family members said, “Wait, women are surgeons?”
I have not done this journey alone, and many women and men have gone ahead of me to make this field better for me. One that has stood out to me has been Dr. James Warneke. From day one in medical school, he taught me to crawl, walk, and run. I didn’t know it at the time, but he invested in me. He took time to edit my history and physical examinations, taught me how to have chief complaints, taught me how to perform a physical exam, and even how to form an assessment and plan. Then, he continued to mentor me throughout residency by showing me surgical technique and teaching the decision-making side of surgery in his clinic. Dr. Warneke has been doing this for many others, and I am thankful for him allowing me to grow with no bias of my gender.
There have been numerous women surgeons who have cultivated me. It has not been a goal of mine to specifically seek out women surgeons as my mentors, but the diversity of the department has provided me with this. I learned with Dr. Taylor Riall that operating can be fun, even a whipple procedure, and the technical nature is enjoyable. Dr. Katie Artz has shown me how to have work-life balance and to continue to adapt with the use of robotic surgery to improve patient outcomes. Dr. Lynn Gries has imprinted on me her love for trauma surgery/critical care and that sharing by teaching others is caring. I could keep going on and on. There have been so many from medical school to residency, and I am so thankful. This is just a glimpse of my mentors and leaders out there who are surgeons and happen to be women.