Nursing conference highlights importance of Hmong representation in health care

Nursing conference highlights importance of Hmong representation in health care

Hmong nurses from all over the country are at St. Paul for a first-of-its-kind event highlighting the importance of culture in healthcare.

The inaugural Hmong Nurses Association Conference kicked off Friday at the University of St. Thomas.

Organizers told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that there is a serious lack of representation of Hmong people in health care, despite Minnesota’s large Hmong population.

Minnesota is home to a Hmong population of 81,000, making it the largest urban concentration of Hmong people in the United States, according to the Wilder Foundation.

“One in three children in the public schools of St. Paul is a Hmong child,” said Maykao Hang, keynote speaker for the conference and founding dean of the Morrison Family College of Health at the University of St. Thomas. “Minnesota’s Hmong population is growing, but there are far fewer nurses than one might expect.”

Minnesota had 118,000 registered nurses in 2021, according to data from the Minnesota Board of Nursing. Hang said only 125 of those nurses were Hmong.

“The way we think about some of these underrepresented populations in nursing: Anything we can do to really advance nursing education and the field is really good,” Hang said.

He said knowing firsthand the culture of patients can improve their hospital stay and health outcomes.

Deu Yang, a nurse from St. Paul who attended the conference, said he works with many elderly Hmong patients on home visits.

“I’m the bridge between,” Young said. “I interpret correctly in Hmong and with Hmong, and then the old man understands.”

He said he was able to honor the wishes of dying patients, according to their tradition.

“I say, ‘Now you’re going to die. What do you like most?’ And many of them say, “Please put me in my uniform, the Hmong uniform. Don’t let me die in a hospital toilet,” Young said. “Every day I go home happy, knowing that I made a big difference with that person.”

In addition to hosting this new conference, the University of St. Thomas is opening a new School of Nursing in the fall. The university says the school will focus on health equity and diversity, including recruiting immigrants and refugees for health care careers.

A representative of St. Thomas said 50 students are enrolled in the program and about a third of them are students of color. Four students in the introductory class are Hmong.

Hang hopes to see Minnesota’s many cultures reflected in nursing students and eventually throughout the state’s hospital systems.

Nurses told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that this conference helped them learn how to bridge the gap with colleagues as well.

“I am always very lonely in my profession. I have to explain to my boss, to my people that I work with, ‘Here, this is my culture,’” Young said. “Today made me feel good.”

Hang added: “We need all kinds of people from all different backgrounds to look after us. The Hmong community is here to stay, and it is a large population. Everyone should be recruiting and reaching out to new populations in our midst.”

The two-day conference in St. Thomas is expected to bring together more than 200 nurses.

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