The medical profession, including family medicine, benefits from having a racially and culturally diverse workforce. In my current practice, I care for a disproportionate number of older Chinese American patients even though I was born in the United States and know fewer than a dozen words of Mandarin. Yet my common heritage allows me to relate to these patients in ways that my non-Chinese colleagues cannot and improves their comfort and trust in my clinical recommendations.
In the mid-1990s, I applied for an 8-week summer laboratory research program at an Ivy League university that explicitly recruited college students from minority groups. Although I am a child of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, there was then, and is now, no shortage of Americans of east Asian descent in medical and other health care professions, including in my own extended family. I wondered if being a member of an “overrepresented” group would work against my being accepted to the program. As it turned out, it did not. Although the majority of my fellow students were African American or Latino, there were several other Asian Americans and even one white student. Looking back, the program was a great success, as most of us ended up becoming doctors. A few years ago, I began mentoring underrepresented in medicine (URM) college students in a similar program at my own institution.
Asian Americans are often mischaracterized as the “model minority” to contrast us with other non-white groups that have not achieved comparable economic success and health status on a population level. But lumping all Asian Americans together obscures the fact that many subgroups are actually URM. In a Letter to the Editor in Family Medicine, Dr. Oanh Truong highlighted the importance of data disaggregation to reveal these disparities:
When Asian American data are aggregated, the conclusions misleadingly suggest that Asian Americans as a singular population are thriving, perpetuating the harmful myth of Asian Americans being the model minority, where they are assumed to be doing better than other minority groups. … However, data disaggregation would reveal that while Filipinos make up 18% of the nation’s Asian American population, they made up only 4.3% of the Asian American medical school applicants in 2019. Additionally, Laotians, Indonesians, and Cambodians altogether made up only 0.5% of the Asian American applicants.