The nurses’ conference underscores the importance of Hmong representation in healthcare

The nurses’ conference underscores the importance of Hmong representation in healthcare

Hmong nurses from across the country are in St. Paul for a unique event highlighting the importance of culture in healthcare.

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

Organizers told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that despite a large Hmong population in Minnesota, there is a serious lack of Hmong representation in healthcare.

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

“One in three children in St. Paul Public Schools 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. “The Hmong population in Minnesota is increasing, but there are far fewer Hmong nurses than one might expect.”

Minnesota had 118,000 registered nurses as of 2021, according to the Minnesota Board of Nursing. Hang said only 125 of those nurses are Hmong.

“The way we’re thinking about some of these underrepresented populations in nursing: whatever we can do to actually advance nursing education and the field is a really good thing,” Hang said.

She said that knowing firsthand about patients’ cultures can improve their hospital stay and health outcomes.

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

“I am the bridge between,” Yang said. “I interpret properly in Hmong and in a Hmong way and then the elder understands.”

She said she was able to fulfill the wishes of dying patients in keeping with her tradition.

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

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 healthcare careers.

A St. Thomas spokesman said 50 students are enrolled in the program and about a third of them are black students. Four students in the opening class are Hmong.

Hang hopes Minnesota’s many cultures will be reflected in her nursing students and eventually throughout the state’s hospital system.

Nurses told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the conference helped them learn how to bridge the gap with colleagues too.

“I’m always very lonely in my job. I have to explain to my supervisor and the people I work with, ‘Here, this is my culture,'” Yang said. “Today I felt good.”

Hang added: “We need all kinds of people from different backgrounds to take care of us. The Hmong community is here to stay and it is a large population. Everyone should recruit and target new populations in our midst.”

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

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