Dr. Somnath Saha honored with AAMC Herbert W. Nickens Award

Dr. Somnath SahaNovember 14, 2016

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) selected Somnath Saha, M.D., M.P.H., staff physician at the VA Portland Health Care System and professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, for its Herbert W. Nickens Award. The award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to promoting justice in medical education and health care equity in the United States. The recipient receives a $10,000 award and presents the Nickens Lecture at the AAMC annual meeting. View announcement.

Dr. Saha was one of nine individuals and one teaching hospital honored for outstanding contributions to academic medicine at an awards presentation on Sunday, Nov. 13, during Learn Serve Lead 2016: The AAMC Annual Meeting in Seattle, Wash. Dr. Saha received a standing ovation for his Nickens Lecture at the event.

Through his scholarship, mentorship, and service, Dr. Saha has been a highly influential advocate for health equity in classrooms and clinics.

Dr. Saha's scholarship has been integral to developing a body of evidence that demonstrates the critical imperative for diversity and inclusion in medicine to improve both patient outcomes and medical student preparedness. Early in his career, Dr. Saha led a study that found that underrepresented minority patients who are cared for by physicians of the same race are more likely to receive appropriate preventive services. Later, he published a highly influential study demonstrating that diversity in medical schools leads to increased confidence in students' feelings of preparedness to care for patients from other racial and ethnic backgrounds. These studies and his other work have been foundational to many national reports, including those by the AAMC, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For example, Dr. Saha's systematic review of racial disparities within the VA health care system is credited as the basis for the department's disparities research portfolio.

Dr. Saha's commitment to enhancing diversity and inclusion in medicine continues in the classroom in his role as professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine. At OHSU, Dr. Saha serves as course director for curricula on health disparities and community-based research for fellows and junior faculty and served for several years on the OHSU admissions committee. He is also known for his mentorship, practicing an "open door policy" for anyone interested in diversity and health equity research. One mentee attests, "Som is a sharp and talented physician scholar, but he is also a kind, wise advisor."

In addition to his faculty and VA roles, Dr. Saha provides regional and national leadership in furthering diversity and inclusion in medicine. He served on the VA's National Cultural Competence Task Force and National Ethics Committee Task Force on Ethnic Disparities. He previously served on several AAMC committees, including the Holistic Review Project Advisory Committee. Today, he also serves as the gubernatorial-appointed chair of the Oregon Health Evidence Review Commission, which works to maximize the value of care in Oregon's Medicaid program. Further, Dr. Saha has worked with the leadership of both the Oregon Latino Health Coalition and the African-American Health Coalition, which work to improve community health education and access to care.

After graduating from Stanford University, Dr. Saha received his M.D. and postgraduate training in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He was a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Washington, where he obtained a master's degree in public health.

Dr. Herbert W. Nickens was the founding vice president of the AAMC's Diversity Policy and Programs unit (formerly Division of Community and Minority Programs). His passionate leadership contributed greatly to focusing national attention on the need to support underrepresented minorities in medicine. He believed that a multidisciplinary approach is needed to address inequities in health. As a result, nominees may come from a wide range of fields, including medicine, dentistry, education, law, nursing, pharmacy, public health, and social and behavioral sciences.