It was while living in Baltimore during his undergraduate, medical school and residency years at Johns Hopkins that Selwyn Vickers ’86, a renowned surgeon in gastrointestinal oncology and the new president of the American Surgical Association (ASA), first encountered an area of study that would influence his career for years to come: disparities in health care.
Baltimore and Birmingham, Alabama — where Vickers today serves as Senior Vice President for Medicine at University of Alabama (UAB) and Dean of the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine — have many similarities, one being the large number of minority individuals who are disproportionately affected by disease, notes Vickers, who was instrumental in forming the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.
Most recently, these disparities have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. The high rate of mortality among brown- and black-skinned populations during the pandemic, often related to differences in prepandemic health care, is “the crisis within a crisis,” says Vickers, who currently serves on the Executive Committee that advises Governor Kay Ivey’s Coronavirus Task Force for the State of Alabama.
As president of the ASA for 2021–22, Vickers says, “I want to see this organization have a clear, national-scale impact as the oldest and most prestigious surgical organization, arguably in America and in the world, on the critical issues of our time.” In particular, he notes, “I believe the Association should continually play a role in diversity, equity and inclusive excellence in our surgical and medical community.”
Vickers, who grew up in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville, Alabama, returned to his home state in 1994 and quickly rose through the ranks at UAB, serving as chief of the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery (2000–06) and John H. Blue Chair of General Surgery in the Department of Surgery (2001–06). He left for an eight-year stint as chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School before returning to UAB in 2013 to take on his current leadership roles.
Vickers’ major scientific interests include the role of growth factors and receptors in the oncogenesis of pancreatic cancer, and gene therapy in the treatment of tumors of the pancreas and biliary system.Working with a colleague, Vickers helped to create Enhancing Minority Participation in Clinical Trials or EMPACT, a consortium of cancer centers aimed at increasing the participation of minorities in cancer-related research studies.