By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Healthcare professionals who have championed clinics for the poor and paved new territory in medical fields made up the honorees for Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s 13th annual Asian American Pioneer Awards.
The 13 individuals and organizations — nominated by colleagues or community members — were honored at a dinner at China Harbor on Oct. 1.
The event raised $20,000, with all proceeds going to the foundation’s summer youth leadership program and diversity scholarships.
Publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post, Assunta Ng, highlighted this year’s “Pioneers in Health” theme. She thanked guests for supporting the “unsung heroes” in the health community.
Emcee for the evening, KING 5 News Anchor Jean Enersen, said guests would meet people whose accomplishments have been tremendous.
Wendy Paul, a Japanese American clinical informatics pharmacist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, spoke of her achievement in balancing the needs of the hospital community and its patients.
As a retired OB/GYN from Virginia Mason Medical Center and a founding member of the Philippine Nurses’ Association of Washington, Tonie Alejo now volunteers with the Filipino nursing community. Alejo originally wanted to be a pianist. If a piano had been available at the restaurant, she would have entertained guests with a song.
The third honoree, George Tanbara, is a self-proclaimed kid at heart and a retired pediatrician. During his 57-year career in medicine, one of his standout achievements was co-founding Community Health Care, a group that ran a volunteer medical clinic in Tacoma for low-income residents.
Chang Shin, a Korean American neurologist, spoke of his decision to open a free medical clinic to help the low-income Korean community.
Shin believes his free clinic represents an ability to find equilibrium between Eastern and Western cultures.
He hopes that this concept can be expanded to other minorities.
When asked how she would encourage other women to pursue medicine, Indian American Lakshmi Gaur recited a phrase her grandmother instilled in her, “If men can do it, women can do it, too.”
Her words were met with a cheer. Gaur is an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Co-founders and key contributors to Nikkei Concerns, Tomio Moriguchi, Tosh Okamoto, and Dr. Ruby Inouye Shu, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
Moriguchi talked about the community. “We learned to help each other when we were young, and that carries on today,” he said.
Nikkei Concerns CEO Jeffrey Hattori later lauded the honorees for their efforts in a healthcare arena that’s constantly changing. “These are the individuals that allow us to have the language and culture appropriate for our community,” he said.
Inspired by discrimination she faced in the 50s, Vi Mar became the first female president and Asian American on the Harborview Medical Board of Trustees.
“‘This is Vi Mar, she started women’s lib,’” said Mar, recounting a former colleague’s introduction of her. “But I said, ‘No, I started people’s lib.’ ”
Karen Matsuda was honored for her work as a nurse in public health. She surprised the audience by revealing that she’s never worked in a hospital in her 40 years of service. Instead, she has passionately spent her time working in family planning. She is currently the deputy health administrator at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Sam Wan and Helen Kay, CEO and board member, respectively, of Kin On Health Care Center, thanked the community for their support since the nursing home’s inception 25 years ago.
When Florence Chang, the senior vice president and CIO of MultiCare, an integrated health organization based in Tacoma, was asked whether men were intimidated by her presence, she laughed. “The answer is yes! Because of my height,” she said, jokingly.
Then speaking more seriously, Chang revealed that the secret to getting ahead in the medical field is to show compassion for others.
CEO Teresita Batayola spoke on behalf of International Community Health Services (ICHS), the largest API health center in Washington state. She talked about the clinic’s efficiency and ability to serve with heart.
As the current director of health of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, former physician Anthony Chen spoke about the cherished interaction he shares with patients. “You get to walk with people in really special parts of their life,” he said.
The final honoree received a standing ovation before she even started her acceptance speech.
The University of Washington (UW) interim president, Phyllis Wise, took office on the same day as the dinner. She is the university’s first female and Asian American president. She was formerly the provost.
Wise is professor of obstetrics and gynecology as well as other sciences at the UW.
Asked about female leadership, Wise noted that while women lead in different ways than men, the best conversations stem from having both at the table. The crowd applauded her response.
Enersen closed the evening by joking that the news station is always on the lookout for new stories.
“I think we found a lot today,” she said. “So stay tuned to KING 5.” ♦
For more information on the event, visit pioneers.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.