The conference of nurses emphasizes the importance of Hmong representation in health care

The conference of nurses emphasizes the importance of Hmong representation in health care

Hmong nurses from all over the country are in St. Paul for a one-of-a-kind event that underscores the importance of culture in healthcare.

The Hmong Nurses Association’s inaugural conference began Friday at St. Thomas University.

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

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 St. Paul’s public schools is a Hmong child,” said Maykao Hang, keynote speaker at the conference and founding principal of Morrison Family College of Health at St. Thomas University. “The Hmong population in Minnesota is growing, but there are far fewer Hmong nurses than you 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: whatever we can do to actually advance nursing education and the field is a really good thing,” Hang said.

He said having firsthand knowledge of patients’ cultures can improve their hospital stay and health outcomes.

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

“I am the middle bridge,” Yang said. “I interpret correctly in Hmong and in Hmong way and then the elder understands.”

She said she was able to honor the wishes of dying patients, in keeping with their tradition.

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

In addition to hosting this new conference, St. Thomas University will open 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 careers in health care.

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

Hang hopes to see Minnesota’s many cultures reflected in her nursing students and ultimately in all of the state’s hospital systems.

Nurses told 5 EYE WITNESS NEWS that this conference helped them learn how to bridge the gap with colleagues.

“I am always very alone in my profession. I have to explain to my supervisor, to my people I work with, ‘Here, this is my culture,’ ”Yang said. “Today it made me feel 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’s a large population. Everyone should recruit and appeal to new populations in the midst of we”.

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

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