Nurses conference highlights importance of Hmong representation in health care

Hmong nurses from across the country are in St. Paul for a first-of-its-kind event highlighting the importance of culture in health care.

The inaugural conference of the Hmong Nurses Association began Friday at the University of St. Thomas.

Organizers told 5 WITNESS NEWS that there is a serious 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. “Minnesota’s Hmong population 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: Anything we can do to actually advance nursing education and the field is a really good thing,” Hang said.

She said getting to know patients’ cultures firsthand 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’m the bridge between,” Yang said. “I interpret correctly in Hmong and in a Hmong way and then the old man understands.”

She said she has been able to honor the wishes of dying patients in accordance with their tradition.

I say, ‘Now you’re going to die. What do you like best?’ And many of them say, ‘Please wear 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 organizing 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 careers in health care.

A spokesman for St. Thomas said 50 students have signed up for the program, and about a third of them are students of color. Four students in the inaugural class are Hmong.

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

Nurses told 5 Eyewitnesses 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 supervisor, to my people that I work with, ‘Look, this is my culture,'” Yang said. “Today made me feel good.”

Hang added, “We need all kinds of people from all different backgrounds to care for us. The Hmong community is here to stay, and it is a large population. All must recruit and appeal to new populations in our midst.”

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

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