My work with Asian Women for Health is currently focusing on community outreach, primarily to conduct educational workshops about breast and cervical health and screenings. I have been mainly making contact with the Vietnamese community, specifically nail salon owners, to survey how COVID19 has impacted their health and to understand the barriers around getting screened during this time.
I feel proud of my contribution to these efforts because it is really personal to me. My mom is the biggest reason I am currently doing this work with Asian Women for Health. At a young age, she made me aware and conscious about the health disparities that Asian women experience when they visit the doctors. She told her suggestions for improvements when I become a doctor and how imperative it is for someone, like me, to be able to connect with the Vietnamese community. She stressed the importance of being bilingual and being health literate in both Vietnamese and English. Because of this, I have seen the direct impact of my work with prior research and current community outreach. Connecting with the Vietnamese community has always been the forefront of my focus for the long-term work that I want to do and AWFH has given me the opportunity to do just that.
From my community outreach, I have learned a lot about the health disparities that exist among the Asian American community, especially when it comes to breast and cervical screenings. In fact, between 1999 and 2013, breast cancer rates for Asian Americans in Boston have increased by 89% (BPHC Health of Boston Cancer Report, 2018). This startling statistic is one of the many reasons that Asian Women for Health focuses on community outreach and education. Breast health is important for everyone, and even more so for those who are 40 and older. Breast self-examinations, for all ages, should be done once a month to observe any noticeable changes and report said changes to a doctor or primary care physician (1). Those 40 and older should have have a mammogram taken every 1 or 2 years (2). By taking these precautions, early detection can allow for earlier treatment.
In relation to cervical screenings, the screening process happens a lot sooner. 79 million Americans, between their late teens and early 20’s, are infected with HPV. For this reason, it is critical for anyone between the age of 12 and 26 to receive their HPV vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer in the future. A Pap smear test, a procedure that exams the cervical cells, is crucial for those who are between 21 and 65. Screening rates in the Asian American community are still concerningly low in contrast to non-white Hispanics. This could be attributed to the fact that fewer Asian Americans have health insurance coverage compared to non-white Hispanics (82% versus 88% in 2011) (3).
Through my work, I am able to bridge part of the healthcare gap by assisting uninsured Asian women and navigating them to Boston Medical Center, so they get access to insurance through MassHealth for free. From here, they can set up appointments for their regular screenings for both cervical and breast exams and stay up to date with their health, which is all covered by their insurance. After reflecting on my past two months, I have gained new perspectives from being in this role and feel fulfilled, knowing that I am making an impact.
(1) Breast self-examinations, for all ages, should be done once a month to observe any noticeable changes and report said changes to a doctor or primary care physician (https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/early-detection-of-breast-cancer/).
(2) Those 40 and older should have have a mammogram taken every 1 or 2 years.
Written by: Lisa Le