May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thanks to the intellect, dedication and perseverance of Asian American scientists, the medical field has progressed in ways that benefit us all. Let’s celebrate the many contributions of this diverse group of Americans.

5 Medical Pioneers to Celebrate for Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month

1. Dr. Anandi Joshi

Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi was the first Hindu and Indian female doctor in the U.S. to receive a medical degree at only 20 years old in 1880. She returned to her home country and was appointed head of the female ward at Albert Edward Hospital. Unfortunately, her achievement was short-lived as she passed away after practicing medicine for only a year.

2. Dr. Min Chueh Chang

Modern medicine has Dr. Min Chueh Chang, an Asian American citizen born in China, to thank for co-developing the birth control pill. In addition, his work pioneered the development of vitro fertilization. Before his death in 1991, he rose to scientist emeritus at the Worchester Foundation for Experimental Biology. The National Academy of Science also elected Dr. Chang as a member, which is the most prestigious honor that can be given to an American scientist short of the Nobel Prize.

3. Dr. David D. Ho

Dr. David D. Ho, MD, a Taiwanese American physician, helped develop antiviral cocktail protocols to treat HIV. His work was a breakthrough treatment during the AIDS pandemic. Time Magazine even named Dr. Ho as 1996’s Man of the Year for proving that HIV replicates immediately when entering a patient’s bloodstream. For the past 15 years, he has worked in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia to develop an HIV vaccine.

4. Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga

Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, MD is a board-certified Filipino American physician who helped decipher “functionality cures” of newborns who contract AIDS through their mothers. As a result, Time Magazine named her to their list of 100 Most Influential People in 2013. She has received many awards for her research.

5. Dr. Abraham Verghese

Dr. Abraham Verghese, MD, an Indian American physician, cared for many AIDS patients in the 1980s before retroviral treatments were developed. His experience gave him firsthand insights about the art of healing. He went on to write best-selling books about the value of physician empathy when caring for patients. On September 22, 2016, he received a National Humanities Medal at the White House from President Barack Obama.

The History of Asian American & Pacific Island Heritage Month

Organizers chose May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in recognition of two pivotal events. On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S. Then, May 10, 1869 marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The project would not have been possible without the contributions of Chinese Americans.

“Throughout American history, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been both a highly desired and deeply debased immigrant group, responsible for some of the nation’s greatest achievements and the targets of the nation’s worst instincts. Victims of both individual and institutional prejudice, Asian-Americans have faced a long history of inequality and exclusion.” – Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Diversity & Inclusion

Medical Field Should Reflect Diverse Patient Populations

In the medical and science fields, Asian American innovators often faced cultural barriers – and even persecution. However, to serve our country’s diverse patient population, we need a diverse field of medical professionals.

“Diversity in nearly every profession is important. In health care, doctors and other health care workers from different cultures and backgrounds bring their unique perspectives to share with colleagues and patients. This helps improve our processes for providing care and helps us be more understanding and responsive to our patients’ needs,” explains Dr. Lisa Doggett, a family physician in Austin, Texas.

While the profession has become more inclusive and diverse over the years, there is still much work to be done. The medical field has a long way to go to be a true reflection of the patient population. Nonetheless, the contributions of these and many other Asian American and Pacific Islanders helped pave the way for future physicians of different backgrounds to leave their legacy in medicine. That’s something worth celebrating.

Meet the Author: John W. Mitchell’s job titles have ranged from sailor in the U.S. Navy (broadcast-journalist aboard an aircraft carrier) to COO and CEO for several hospitals. In 2009, HealthLeaders Media named John and his senior executive team the Top Leadership Team in Healthcare for turning around a 90-bed, regional Washington hospital. In 2012, he started his own business, SnowPack Public Relations. John is widely published as a freelance reporter and writer in the hospital, healthcare, and medical sectors. More recently, his projects include writing content on behalf of Patientco. John is also the author of the novel Medical Necessity (four stars on Amazon), and he is a commercially successful landscape and wildlife photographer.