Hmong nurses from across the country are in St. Paul for a one-of-a-kind event highlighting the importance of culture in healthcare.
The inaugural conference of the Hmong Nurses Association began Friday at the University of St. Thomas.
Organizers told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that there is a severe lack of Hmong representation in health care, despite a large Hmong population in Minnesota.
“One in three children in St. Paul’s public schools is a Hmong child,” said Maykao Hang, the conference’s keynote speaker and founding dean of Morrison Family College of Health at the University of St. Thomas. “Minnesota’s Hmong population is growing, but there are far fewer Hmong nurses than you might think.”
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 advance nursing education and the field is a very good thing,” Hang said.
She said having first-hand 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 on home visits.
“I am the bridge between,” Yang said. “I interpret correctly in Hmong and in the Hmong way, 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’re going to die. What do you like the 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 made a big difference with this person.”
In addition to hosting this new conference, the University of St. Thomas is opening of a new nursing school in autumn. The university says the school will focus on health equity and diversity, including recruiting immigrants and refugees for health careers.
A St. Thomas spokesperson said 50 students were enrolled in the program and about a third of them were students of color. Four students in the inaugural class are Hmong.
Hang hopes to see Minnesota’s many cultures reflected in its nursing students and eventually in the state’s hospital systems.
The nurses told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that this conference also helped them learn to bridge the gap with their colleagues.
“I am always very alone in my job. I have to explain to my supervisor, to the people I work with, “Here is my culture,” Yang said. “Today I felt good.”
Hang added, “We need all kinds of people from all walks of life to take care of us. The Hmong community is here to stay, and it’s a big population. Everyone should recruit and attract new populations among us. »
The two-day conference in St. Thomas is expected to attract more than 200 nurses.