August 20, 2018

The Change Within

Making strides towards creating an inclusive environment in Surgery.

The Michigan Promise Blog
Christa Grant, Erika Newman, Shannon Fayson, and Valeria Valbuena in the operating room
Christa Grant, MD, Erika Newman, MD, Shannon Fayson, MD, and Valeria Valbuena, MD in the operating room.

Reflections from Valeria Valbuena, MD, House Officer II, General Surgery:

One of the reasons I chose to become a surgeon is the way operating makes me feel: the daily joy of learning a skill that will help others in countless ways. It is a feeling that I am lucky to find in everyone I train with. From my co-residents to my faculty, the common denominators of the love for our field and passion for patient care drive us all to work hard, excel, and push boundaries. We make a great team. As a trade for this privilege, I have chosen a career where minorities, in particularly minority women, are not represented. 

Medicine can be a lonely place for a woman of color. Surgery, as it turns out, is an even lonelier one. The kindest, most welcoming environments when devoid of representation can be hard spaces to be in. Imagine a day at your job when you stand surrounded by like-minded colleagues, yet alone because nobody around you looks like you. This scenario, one deemed trivial in so many academic settings, gnaws at the heart of many undergraduates, medical students, residents, fellows, and faculty belonging to traditionally underrepresented groups in your institution. It affects people in different ways, although some not at all. It has touched me at every stage in my training, and I see its effects in others, who like me, store their insecurities away to gain access to the higher education spaces not originally designed for us. Lack of representation does not get easier to manage as you move through academia. During the harder days, it is a life line to be able to share a meal, a text, or an email with someone who experiences medicine and surgery the way I do. It makes me smile everyday to think about this picture and what it means for me, and hopefully others.

Valbuena quote

The day we took it was electric in the way I am biased to think only a surgery day can be. Our team was buzzing to continue moving the day along, and we found ourselves at the end of the day, in the same room, finishing our last case. One of our OR staff mentioned how the entire team, including our anesthesia colleagues, scrub nurses, and circulators were women. “When was the last time you saw four women of color operating too?” I pointed out. There was a glee in the air as we asked for a picture. When was it? When I asked for permission from the family of my patient  to share this image, I told them it had meant the world to me to be there. They asked me for a copy so they could keep it too.

I dream of the day moments like this one will not need to be highlighted or celebrated because they happen everyday, in every clinical setting. A day when girls of all backgrounds can see themselves as doctors and surgeons. For now, I find myself grateful to belong to an institution that is making intentional and meaningful strides to make more operating rooms, clinics, and classrooms places where you can look around and see within others a journey that reflects your own in every way. 

Newman quote

Reflections from Erika Newman, MD, Assistant Professor, Pediatric Surgery:

What seems most memorable about the day was that the team assembled were among our very best, sharing their gifts and talents through meaningful work. Each in their own brilliant way exemplifying how excellence overcomes all barriers.

I recall thinking of the intern (Shannon Fayson) how confident and knowledgeable she was in her first month as a doctor. How she had answered every clinical question thoughtfully and thoroughly and that she was off to such an incredible start. Valeria is exceptional in all ways that a 2nd year resident can be- hard-working, detail-oriented, efficient, engaged, and an inspiration to everyone around her. Christa Grant, an exceptional graduating pediatric surgery fellow has made us all proud with her exemplary compassionate care of children and outstanding technical skills. I teased her that day that she had “rocked the fellowship” and that she was ready. She is poised for a bright career in academic pediatric surgery and her potential has no limits.

Through the Michigan Promise, we are making intentional changes for a more diverse and inclusive environment. Our vision is to create a workplace where diverse faculty and residents are empowered to achieve their best in an academic environment that explores, continually improves, and celebrates the core value of diversity manifest in an inclusive environment. We have hard work to do still, but we are well on our way.


Article by Valeria Valbuena, MD (Twitter: @v_valbuen) and Erika Newman, MD (Twitter: @erikaanewman)

Dr. Erika Newman

Erika A. Newman, MD

Associate Professor, Pediatric Surgery
Vice Chair of Faculty Development, Surgery
Surgical Director, Mott Solid Tumor Oncology Program
Program Director, Pediatric Surgery Fellowship

Contact Us

Reach out to join the conversation or to learn more about how to implement the Michigan Promise. Connect with the Department of Surgery or our faculty on Twitter to share your ideas or get in touch with the Office of Faculty & Resident Life to schedule a Michigan Promise presentation at your institution. You can also fill out our Michigan Promise Inquiry Form with any questions or comments.

Department of Surgery
2210F Taubman Center
1500 E. Medical Center Dr.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Phone: 734-232-5528


Twitter: @UMichSurgery

Hashtag: #MichiganPromise


Related Media: