Diverse Perspectives & Advocacy

Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month in Healthcare

Dhielan Bustos
May 1, 2024
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I am very happy to spread the word about a topic that hits close to home - Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, commonly abbreviated as AAPI Month. Like Black History Month or Women’s History Month,  AAPI is a time to recognize, learn, and celebrate the rich culture, influence, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US. 

This month can also be used as a time of reflection as we acknowledge the social, cultural, and economic challenges that AAPI people face daily. One of these challenges is representation, which is especially crucial in healthcare. A lack of Asian American/Pacific Islander representation in healthcare professionals can lead to less favorable outcomes for those a part of the AAPI community because challenges such as language barriers and differences in cultural values can inhibit proper care and attention. 

When Did AAPI Heritage Month Start?

To get us started, let’s cover a quick lesson on the history of AAPI Heritage Month, which had a somewhat tumultuous start. In 1977, Representative Frank Horton and Senator Daniel Inouye—on two separate occasions—tried to introduce resolutions that would proclaim the first ten days of May as “Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week.” Both times, the resolutions were rejected. 

It wasn’t until June of 1978 that the resolution was passed, deeming the 7-day period starting on May 4, 1979, as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. Progress did not stop there; in 1990, the observance was changed from a week to a month. Finally, in 1992, Congress annually designated May as AAPI Heritage Month, which is what we’re celebrating today.    

Notable Contributions of the AAPI Community to Healthcare

AAPI Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the AAPI community's contributions to our American society. Several of these contributions are in the healthcare field. Let’s celebrate a few notable figures!

  • In 1916, Dr. Margaret Chung became the first American-born female Chinese physician. She was known as “mom” to many American soldiers, sailors, and airmen, whom she supported through their war efforts during World War II. 
  • Dr. Itano, a Japanese-American scientist, pioneered sickle cell anemia research and helped establish the lesser-known field of molecular medicine by discovering that hemoglobin from red blood cells differed between typical and sickle cell anemia patients. 
  • Dr. Ho, who is a Taiwanese American physician, was named Time’s Man of the Year in 1996 for his pioneering research in HIV/AIDS, which completely changed the way we look at HIV/AIDS through his discovery that the virus replicated itself immediately once in the bloodstream and was not laying dormant in patients. 

Supporting Health Equity in the AAPI Community

While May is a great time to celebrate the triumphs of the AAPI community, it is also important to recognize the community's struggles, especially in the healthcare setting. An issue most commonly seen is the poor awareness of Asian health disparities in the US healthcare system. 

More often than not, Asian health is aggregated, misrepresented, and not mentioned in health and medical education. Despite the high-density Asian population in states such as New Jersey and California, lawmakers have not recognized the differential health needs of the Asian American community. This largely impacts health care provider’s misunderstandings of Asian culture. 

A large majority of healthcare providers see Asians and Pacific Islanders as non-Hispanic White. Health outcomes diminish when there is no cultural congruence between provider and patient. This is because of unconscious biases masking the difficulties that Asian American populations experience. 

What further masks the experiences of Asian Americans in healthcare is the idea of the “Model Minority.” The “model minority” myth claims that Asians are grossly overgeneralized as “successful” and are of “less need” than other minority groups. This type of prejudice and discrimination is what contributes to the neglect of specific health conditions among Asian subgroups.

How to Get Involved and Take Action during AAPI Heritage Month

There are numerous ways to combat these issues and help support the AAPI community and their healthcare initiatives. As healthcare providers, it is important that we advocate for our AAPI patients. Here are a few ways you can take action: 

  1. Preventative care is important. Ensuring that you educate your AAPI patients that getting yearly, regular check-ups is a fantastic way to protect and improve your patient’s health. Preventative care can include performing screenings, staying up to date with vaccines, tracking blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, and providing strong recommendations on making healthy lifestyle changes to decrease the likelihood of disease.
  2. Advocacy work is needed. Created by a national voice to advocate for the unique and diverse needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, AAPCHO (Association of Asian Pacific Community Health and Organizations) was created to serve needs amongst diversity. AAPCHO has tackled different projects including the awareness of hepatitis B in Asian Americans, immigrant access to healthcare, and Pacific Islander diabetes prevention programs. Their various programs are offered through webinars, collaboratives, and consultations.
  3. Becoming culturally educated makes a difference. Educational resources can be found through the AANHPI Health Organization, a resource reviewed by the NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health. Health educational materials, data regarding demographic and research data, and toolkits can all be found through the AANHPI Health website.

Be the Change

We should all strive to use May to celebrate, acknowledge, and advocate for our fellow Asian American and Pacific Islanders. The AAPI community has made numerous, impactful contributions to our society and the healthcare field. With the rise in AAPI healthcare workers continuing to grow, the hope of decreasing less favorable health outcomes is possible. 

In assisting with improving AAPI health outcomes, it is equally important to educate non-Asian community providers and provide resources to assist in giving exceptional care. An approach that identifies and respects the cultural needs and differences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders helps to validate the health management of our patients.

Join the Trusted Health community today to stay informed, get involved in these conversations, and help advocate for equitable health treatment and better outcomes for the AAPI community. Together, we can foster a healthcare environment that truly understands and celebrates the diversity of all its members. Sign up now to join a community that values health equity and excellence.

Dhielan Bustos

Dhielan is a physical therapist with a heart for rehabilitation. With experience in inpatient neuro rehab and a focus on stroke care, Dhielan has been involved in research on implementing a new outcome measure for reducing falls risk in the geriatric population. He's currently on the path to becoming certified in neurological rehab and stroke rehabilitation. Outside of work, Dhielan is a foodie and coffee connoisseur and enjoys pushing his physical limits. He can often be found on the tennis court or pickleball court or partaking in high-intensity interval training. With a genuine passion for improving lives and a love for life's little pleasures, Dhielan brings warmth and dedication to everything he does.

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