Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month celebrates the contributions and influence of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Americans in the United States and is observed annually every May. In this CSAOF, we spotlight Dr. John Hsieh, Treasurer of the CSA.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your childhood.
I was born in Taiwan and grew up in the city of Tainan, which is located in the southern part of Taiwan. It is considered to be the oldest city in Taiwan with both Dutch and Japanese influences from their respective occupations. I went to a private Catholic elementary school and two years of private Presbyterian junior high school. While growing up in Taiwan, I was chronically missing from school as the result of frequent asthma attacks. I recall chronically gasping for air, but the experience created an alternative path for my educational process. I spent most of my childhood visiting the doctor, who happened to be my uncle. I grew to be very familiar with medicine. During my doctor visits, I went along with my mom’s errands. While on those errands, I gained experience in banking and business accounting. Those experiences shaped my future interest and capacity in finance and investments. I immigrated to the US when I was 14, went to Arcadia High School and completed my undergraduate studies at UCLA. I spent my teenage years and most of my adult life in Southern California with the exception of medical school at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City and residency in anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
When did you know you wanted to be an anesthesiologist?
My being an anesthesiologist is more of an accident and an alternative to a surgical specialty. In high school, I was more interested in computer programming and hoped to pursue a degree in computer science, but that didn’t happen. My grades and English proficiency were not good enough to be accepted by a major engineering program. As a result, I found medicine was an easier and achievable alternative. As a medical student, I was interested in otolaryngology, not anesthesiology. During my elective rotation, while helping in a major sinus surgery for ten hours, I discovered anesthesia to be a less physical straining specialty. The anesthesiologist in the case spent more cerebral time while the surgeon was stressed both mentally and physically. Furthermore, being accepted by the MGH anesthesia program steered me towards anesthesia. MGH was the only anesthesia program on my residency match list. Without its acceptance, I wasn’t going to be an anesthesiologist!
What is your role in anesthesiology now? How does being a member of the AAPI community influence your work?
I have been in a private anesthesia group in Newport Beach for the past 23 years and I have been attending the CSA governance meetings ever since then. I started out as the delegate and district director for Orange County. When I started with the CSA, CSA meetings were more of a social gathering and an exchange of practice ideas among anesthesiologists with educational opportunities. Nowadays, the CSA is more involved in legislative advocacy and more educational topics ranging from medicine to practice management. CSA past presidents have been my mentors during my careers and I, being Asian and speaking with a strong accent, have not been excluded from participation in the governance of the CSA. Throughout the years, I have appreciated that CSA promotion is based on performance and the ability that a person brings to the organization.
There has been a rise in hate-filled actions towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. What does showing up to support the AAPI community look like for you?
Even though AAPI hate has concerned me, I felt that we, AAPI, have to rise up and educate others. By participating in our own community events and getting ourselves out of our comfort zone, we will help in stopping the AAPI hate or any bigotry. Asians have a long history of isolating ourselves in our own society; however, for the past forty years, we have made strong strides in integrating with the rest of American society whether participating at our school activities or volunteering at our local governments. However, we still have a long way to go. By participating in our own communities or professional organizations, we will continue to make headway in our society.
Is there anything that people often mistake or confuse about the AAPI community?
While growing up in Southern California, I have experienced some subtle forms of racism and some which are not; however, in the last five to ten years, I have felt that those racial slurs and bigotry behaviors are more frequent. The racial slur like “go back to China” can be heard from the ski slopes in Park City to the professional setting in my own hospital. Out of my own knowledge and education, I have always attempted to look for an answer to the reason why non-Asian communities would have that kind of perception of most Asians. For most non-Asians, Asians are commonly referred to as anyone that looks Chinese but in reality, Asians are composed of a variety of languages and cultural backgrounds. It is a very heterogeneous group of human beings. Chinese is most commonly and conveniently represented as Asian but in reality, Asian culture can be aboriginals from island nations, dating back several thousands of years. The varied civilizations created pyramids that are currently buried under deep water, built the Great Wall of China and practiced the Buddhism religion originating in India. For most non-Asians, they see Asians as monolithic instead of learning and educating themselves about varied cultures and languages. Therefore, introduction and education of our diverse cultures are a vital part of stemming AAPI hate.
What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?
Asian culture has always placed family first and family values have helped shape most AAPI families. My personal and family life is no exception in that regard. I respect my elders and take care and support my family members the best I can. I attribute my success to my family.