Never cease to explore!

Young Dr. Sumchai was an intern at the UCSF Department of Surgery, Trauma Surgery Service, in San Francisco General Hospital, June 1981.

Reflections on accepting the UCSF School of Medicine Alumni of the Year Award 2021

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD

“We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot

I accept the distinction of being named Alum of the Year 2021 as both a personal honor and, as a member of the UCSF School of Medicine Reunion Class of 1981, with a duty to thank those who helped me achieve this recognition.

Dr. Ramona Tascoe, president of the UCSF Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors, is my trusted friend and colleague.

Dr. Ramona Tascoe is flanked by students in UCSF Class of 2023 at the Medical Alumni White Coat Ceremony, August 2019.

I have long admired UCSF Dean Talmadge E. King as an academic thought leader, physician scientist, pioneering researcher in the medical management of interstitial lung disease and author of over 300 research articles and textbooks.

Dr. Talmadge King was named dean of the UCSF School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs in May 2015. He began his career at UCSF in 1997 as chief of Medical Services at Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. 

Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. Rupa Marya, associate professor of medicine and faculty director of the Do No Harm Coalition, for her courage and assistance in the 2019 launch of the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program and as the hospitalist who helped care for my brother during the March 2020 COVID-19 shut down.

Dr. Mark Alexander holds a PhD in epidemiology. He is my high school friend and former director of the Medical Effectiveness Research Center for Diverse Populations at UCSF. Dr. Alexander played a pivotal role in helping to establish the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program along with Hunters Point community leaders, activists and the collective voice of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper.

Clinical epidemiologist Mark Alexander, PhD, left, and Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, PI and medical director of the Hunters Point Biomonitoring Program, host the September 2020 UCSF Medical Alumni Association Insider Tour School of Medicine with the Class of 2024. The portrait dominating the wall behind them is of Carlton B. Goodlett, PhD, MD, and is the appropriate backdrop for this pioneering medical screening clinic. From the 1940s through the ‘80s, Dr. Goodlett was a leading civil rights figure in San Francisco after being one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate in psychology from UC Berkeley. In San Francisco, nonwhite doctors were barred from working in local hospitals. When Dr. Goodlett came on the scene as one of only three Black doctors in the city, by the late ‘40s, Black doctors finally won the right to work all over – while still facing awful discrimination. And, in 1947, he led the fight against San Francisco’s public transit for failing to hire Black workers, which led to the transit’s workforce becoming over 40 percent Black. To top it off, he founded and wrote for San Francisco’s beloved Black newspaper, the Sun-Reporter, making a strong base on the West Coast for civil rights advocacy! – Photo: Malik Washington

There are four emerging areas of my current medical research and practice the bestowal of this honor will allow me to amplify:

Environmental Health and Justice: The first major study of segregation and pollution in America was conducted in 1987 by the Commission for Racial Justice. Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States proved race to be the major determinant in where toxic waste facilities are sited. 

The best and the brightest! Participants in the UCSF Insider Tour, once introduced to the then new Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Project in its office on Third Street, walked a couple of blocks in December 2019 to Eskender Aseged’s  Radio Africa Kitchen on Third and Oakdale.

People of color comprise 60 percent of residents living within a two-mile radius of hazardous waste sites and polluting industries. Biomonitoring measures pollution in people, and the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program launched in January 2019 as the first human biomonitoring program established to offer voluntary urinary toxicology screenings capable of detecting up to 35 toxic and nutrient elements to residents and workers on a federal Superfund site.

“Never Surrender: The Fight for Environmental Justice in Bayview Hunters Point” is a documentary film by Dr. M. Reza Shirazi based on over two years of research and fieldwork in the Bayview Hunters Point community located in heavily industrialized and polluted Southeast San Francisco. Shirazi is an urbanist and researcher in Sustainable Urban Development at Oxford Brookes University, awarded the Marie Sklodowska Curie Global Fellow at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at UC Berkeley 2018-2020 and principal investigator for the EU funded research project (Un)Just Neighbourhoods

Exercise is Medicine: A global health initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine to make physical activity assessment and promotion a standard in clinical care. Launched on Nov. 5, 2007, by ACSM, the American Medical Association and the Office of the Surgeon General, EIM’s Prescription for Health is based on research that shows only 150 minutes a week of physical activity can treat and prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and Type II diabetes. 

I have authored an archive on articles on specific use of exercise modalities in the treatment of lower back pain, called “Racial Disparities in Healthcare and Social Determinants of Health.” In a 1966 speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Of all forms of discrimination and inequalities, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Physician Wellness and Resilience: Golden State MD Health and Wellness is a pioneering member of the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Physician Wellbeing and Resilience. 

To care is human, and recent studies show up to 45 percent of physicians experience burnout with serious consequences that include medical errors, dysfunctional personal and professional relationships, decreased patient satisfaction, loss of professional status, depression and suicide. The Ten Commandments of Physician Wellness state, “Thou shall not expect someone else to reduce your stress.” Read the full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC44553302/.

The highest duty of UCSF medical alumni is to nurture and cultivate in future physicians the trait most linked to higher intelligence, academic success and community service: curiosity. The unrelenting, never-ending quest to know and learn! Information seeking, inquisitiveness, the thirst for knowledge and the questioning mind. 

Never cease to explore!

“Curiosity is linked to success because it drives us to explore the unknown, releases us to make new discoveries, develop new understandings and new relationships, uncover unknown truths, ripe opportunities and experience growth in new and unchartered directions.” – Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, UCSF School of Medicine Class of 1981

“I swear by Apollo, Healer, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment this oath and this indenture. To hold my teacher in this art equal to my parents and partner in my livelihood … and to teach them this art, if they want to learn it, without fee or indenture; to impart precept, oral instruction to my own children, the children of my teacher, and the indentured pupils who have taken the Healer’s Oath.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but T.S. Eliot leads us all the way “back home, through the unknown, remembered gate / When the last of earth left to discover / Is that which was the beginning; / What we call the beginning is often the end / The end is where we start from.”

Never cease to explore!

SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, PD, founder and principal investigator for the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at asumchai@gmail.com. Dr. Sumchai is medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, a UCSF and Stanford trained author and researcher, and a member of the UCSF Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors.