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Huang Fellows Reflections

Diversity within Asian & Pacific Islander American subgroups poses unique healthcare challenges. Building a strong community and better collaboration are key at the 2017 Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

Expanding the Collective Voice for Health Equity & Access

Two weeks ago I attended the Voices Conference, hosted by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum and held in Washington, DC; the focus of the 2-day event was, as the carefully-crafted conference theme put it, on “expanding networks for health equity.”

Because of the diversity that exists within and among Asian & Pacific Islander American (APIA) communities, they hold a unique place in the national dialogue regarding health equity, health disparities, and healthcare access – for example, prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, APIA subgroup percentages of uninsured people ranged from as low as 5.3% to as high as 27%. So the situation is complex, further complicated by factors such as the variability in the provision of culturally competent care available to different APIA subgroups.

This messy, intricate issue is precisely why “expanding networks” is so important: to me, the concept of a network implies connection, communication, collaboration. People who are passionate about and who think critically about their work are the ones who can create meaningful and accessible change for their target populations and home communities; imagine the power of an entire network of these people. Fortunately, that is what I found at the conference – a group of people who, in this case, were dedicated to a future in which health equity would become a reality for all APIA communities and who wanted to work together to do so.

The Voices Conference was a space for community organizers, advocates, service providers, policy makers. It was a space for all these people to come together, share their expertise with each other, and hopefully leave with a better sense of how to move beyond their individual spheres of influence and build, together, a sustainable effort for health equity.

The keynote speaker at the conference stressed the importance of engaging effectively with target populations and communities. That eventually turned into a discussion of how to effectively utilize social media, which was funny to me mostly because aside from a few other student scholars, the auditorium was full of older folks who seemed fascinated by Facebook publicity strategies.

People who are passionate about and who think critically about their work are the ones who can create meaningful and accessible change for their target populations and home communities.

Diverse Experiences & Diverse Perspectives Create Stronger Products

The point, though, is that the talk dovetailed nicely with some of what the other speakers mentioned. One moment in particular that resonated with me was when some community organizers and lobbyists were talking about their experience working with policy makers on the Health Equity and Accountability Act – what stood out was the bits and pieces of what went into the final version of the bill and the different ways in which people contributed information and skills that they had gleaned from their various walks of life, all in order to create a piece of legislation that reflected their experiences and the experiences of the people whom they represented. They brought what they had learned from engaging with their communities and used that knowledge to engage with each other and build a final product that was worth the collective time they put into it.

And, well, that’s just a narrower version of the type of collaboration and communication that I think is necessary in today’s world when we talk about creating change. I’m interested in healthcare access and health equity from the lens of a healthcare provider and a researcher, but the work that I am doing (and will continue to do) is not as well-informed, not as effective, not as fulfilling, if I don’t also engage from a policy perspective, an advocacy perspective, a human perspective.

Because at the end of the day this is about stories, about narratives, about the way that I and those around me can try to heal, in our own ways, the hurts and aches of people who might not be able to do so on their own. It’s a lot of work, sure, to think critically about the practice of my work and the consequences of what I do, and I would guess that this reason is exactly why some people choose to silo themselves away into their respective fields of expertise. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from meeting the vibrant and passionate group of people that attended the Voices Conference, it is that there are always people who are willing to share the burden and work with me toward our shared goal of bettering the world around us.

They brought what they had learned from engaging with their communities and used that knowledge to engage with each other and build a final product that was worth the collective time they put into it.

Ada Zhang, Huang Fellow ’16

Ada ZhangAda is interested in the intersection of neuroscience and society, especially in regard to how recent developments in neuroscience have the potential to shape the way we interact with our surroundings and each other.