Hmong American Heritage Month: The importance of belonging for providers and patients

[Allina Health Newsroom, April 25, 2024] The Twin Cities are home to the largest urban population of Hmong individuals in the country, including Allina Health physicians Yer Xiong, MD and Chee Vang, MD.

Dr. Xiong immigrated to the United States at five years old and while she excelled at English classes, she found herself still trying to fit in with her peers as she grew up. “You want to find that sense of belonging,” Xiong recalled.

Dr. Vang was born and raised in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood after his parents were among the growing number of Hmong immigrants arriving to Minnesota. He chose to work near the neighborhood where he grew up to care for the diverse community, stating, “Many of my patients are non-English speaking and come from communities that are underrepresented or of lower socioeconomic status.”

A burst of pride
Even with a rapidly growing Hmong population in Minnesota, after living here for more than 30 years, Dr. Xiong became a new physician and noticed there were only a handful of Hmong doctors in the Twin Cities.

It wasn’t until an assignment as a float family physician at Allina Health’s Bandana Square Clinic that Dr. Xiong felt a burst of pride she could not contain when, at one location, she found four additional Hmong doctors - Dr. Lor, Dr. Vang, Dr. Xiong and Dr. Lochungvu.

“We think that our Bandana Square Clinic might just have the largest number of Hmong doctors in one clinic,” she proudly declared. Dr. Vang agreed, “That was the first time, I think in Minnesota, that you had a combination of five Hmong family practice doctors come together in one place.”

Belonging versus fitting in
Dr. Brene Brown often speaks about the difference between fitting in and belonging. When trying to fit in, you must change something about yourself. But to truly belong, you show up as yourself and you feel welcome. “Dr. Brown’s words really resonated, but I didn't know how until I felt it myself,” explained Dr. Xiong. “Whether it's a familiar smell, reminding me of home or just working alongside someone who looks and speaks like me, I feel like I belong, just because I'm me.”

Dr. Xiong knows that desire for connection can also apply to her patients. “Think about my older patients who aren't able to ‘fit in’ because they don't speak English, or they don't understand the culture,” she explained. “Imagine how alienating it is for them, but then they see me or one of my colleagues and we greet them in their language…imagine how much more powerful it is for our patients to feel that sense of belonging.”

Dr. Vang also goes the extra mile to connect with Hmong patients in their language, running a monthly Hmong diabetes group in the Bandana Square Clinic.

Connecting with care
Dr. Xiong’s experience is helpful when connecting with her patients, reminding her of a recent interaction with a patient from another country, “We were completely different in terms of where we came from and the things we experienced, but our common thread was that we both were refugees of war. We related to each other as human beings because of our shared understanding.”

“For people who have come from other countries where they’ve experienced profound loss and poverty, then get plopped in a new country where they don't know the language or the culture, it really changes you in a way that if (a provider) has experienced that, it not only makes us more effective, it helps us relate to people.”

Creating an inclusive space
There are few fields where you can create a space for patients of all backgrounds so they feel like they belong. Allina Health provides that same inclusive space for employees of all backgrounds. “It's not just at the community level, but also at the professional level,” said Dr. Vang. “Leadership at Allina Health has done a very good job. They treat us all very well. They see us and we belong.”

In the picture starting from left to right:
Dr. Chee Lor, Dr. Toua Xiong, Dr. Chee Vang, Dr. Yer Moua Xiong, Dr. Patricia Hnouchi Lochungvu

Posted on April 25, 2024 in Bandana Square

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