Cross-Cultural Strategies to Address Hmong Health Care Needs

Developing culturally competent strategies to support the health care needs of Milwaukee's Hmong population

Full Project Name:Cross Cultural Strategies to Address the Healthcare Needs of the Hmong Community in MilwaukeePrimary Community Organization:Shee Yee Community of Milwaukee, Inc.Primary Academic Partner:Melanie Sberna Hinojosa, PhD, Family and Community MedicineAward Amount:$40,000
Award Date
July2009
Project Duration:12 months

Project Description Narrative:


Shamans — spiritual healers or spiritual doctors — are greatly respected in the Hmong community and are often relied on to diagnose and treat illnesses through traditional practices that have been passed down from generation to generation. A common practice is for Hmong community members to use shamans in conjunction with physicians to handle both routine or emergency care. Yet members of the Hmong community who see physicians or go to the hospital for care often experience a lack of cross-culturual understanding between their traditional practices and Western medicine. While the Hmong community has benefited greatly from embracing Western medicine alongside traditional medicine practices and spiritual healing, most physicians and other health care professionals have limited knowledge of Hmong culture and traditional Hmong medical practices.

Wisconsin has the third largest Hmong population in the U.S., with Milwaukee representing one of five metropolitan areas with the hightest number of Hmong residents. This growing population is at risk for a number of health issues (cancer, stroke, and mental health), and chronic diseases due to changes in lifestyle that have resulted from their recent migration to the U.S. Coupled with linguistic isolation and a distrust of the U.S. medical system, this population is in need of practitioners who can bridge traditional practices with Western medicine.

Through this project, partners aim to develop cross-cultural strategies to address the health care needs of the Hmong community in Milwaukee with regard to mental health and preventable diseases.

Additional MCW academic partner:
Alan Wells, PhD, Family and Community Medicine

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:


• Conducted interviews with members of the Hmong community, including Hmong shamans, to identify barriers to managing the care of Hmong in the community. Interviews identified that misunderstandings of Hmong cultural practices have led to lessening of trust between members of the Hmong community and Western medical doctors, causing some Hmong to avoid or delay necessary medical care

• Identified cross-cultural strategies to build trust among the Hmong community and the medical establishment, developing and hosting three cross-cultural forums entitled the “Hmong Shaman Doctor Dialogues," focusing on epilepsy treatment and diagnosis, behavioral health disorders, and palliative medicine and end of life care

• Partnered with the Shee Yee Community of Milwaukee to expand health care related partnerships through new initiatives, meetings, and educational programs with partners including public health and health system entities

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