W6: Refugee Health

The history of the Hmong people is an unfortunate one. During the Vietnam War the United States trained Hmong soldiers in Laos to create a “secret army”. The Hmong fought on our side opposing the communist rule of the USSR and northern Vietnam. As the United States started to withdrawal from the war the Hmong continued the fight without U.S. support. The war continued for over nine years, during which over 2 million tons of explosives were dropped on Laos (Fadima). This was devastating to the Hmong because they relied on the land for survival. This, among other factors led the Hmong to be placed into refugee camps forcing them to become reliant just to survive.

It is important to understand the background of what the Hmong went through in order to truly understand Lee’s healthcare experience in the United States. One more than one occasion during this class we have examined similar topics, on how immigrants and minorities should be treated. Although, I personally believe for the most part that refugees need to assimilate to our culture, including our healthcare practices, I also think their culture and traditions need to be respected if at all possible. Meaning, that doctors in the United States should not have to know all medical related traditions from every culture and should treat refugees the same as Americans. However, if there is one particular practice that is important to them, doctors should be willing to accommodate them upon request, so long as it doesn’t pose a risk.

I understand that it was very difficult to the Lee family to communicate with the medical practitioners because of language barriers, however that also shows why assimilation is crucial. Now, this does not necessarily apply specifically to the Lee situation because of the timeline, but this is what I believe is necessary and my recommendation for improving healthcare for United States refugees. Putting the language barrier aside, I believe the Lee family should have received more accommodations regarding the traditional practices they were denied that they wanted to do which they thought would help cure Lia (Fadima).

Although I believe there are other possible solutions to improving refugee healthcare, I think assimilation is the most important and would have the biggest impact on improvement. Even though it doesn’t make recommendations on how to solve the problem my article points out that some of the biggest problems were the refugees not be able to speak English or write their name for the medical forms (Morris). This led many refugees to not even seek medical care for problems they knew they had. The article also showed that it wasn’t just refugees that have been in the Untied States for a few weeks or even month that could not read, write, or speak English. Rather, it included refugees granted permanent status who have been in the country for more than a year (Morris). Obviously, if assimilation was mandatory, which I believe it should be, than many of the problems would no longer exist. I would also just like to point out that mandatory assimilation does not mean being forced to abandon your cultural beliefs or traditions.


Morris, Meghan D., Steve T. Popper, Timothy C. Rodwell, Stephanie K. Brodine, and Kimberly C. Brouwer. “Healthcare Barriers of Refugees Post-resettlement.” Journal of Community Health. August 25, 2009. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2778771/.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

3 thoughts on “W6: Refugee Health

  1. Michael Kreza,

    I really appreciate the fact that you used the word assimilation as the most important solution to our flawed healthcare system. I completely agree with you. It is frustrating to me that at this day and age we are still facing such problems. Refugees should be given the opportunity to learn to read, write, and speak in English. Though, they cannot learn this on their own. It is our responsibility to work with these refugees and teach them our ways. Teaching them our ways does not mean abandoning their own cultures, as you said. I do believe that if they are living in our country it is necessary that they are able to communicate. With that being said I also believe that Americans should be taught, in grade school, they different ways of other cultures so that their is never really a culture shock while communicating with other people from other countries. It is important for both, the refugees and Americans, to become familiarized with different cultures. Other cultures should be given just as much freedom as Americans are to practice their believes in our country, contradictory to Lias situation. We must make it a point to fix these things here in the U.S., as I feel it is necessary for all people to communicate in order to make our healthcare system the best it can possibly be.

    Taylor Dabish

  2. Hello!
    I agree with you in saying that in order to fully understand what the Hmong family was feeling when dealing with health decisions for their daughter, we have to understand their background. I feel like any problem is easier to understand if you have a little background information. I do believe the refugees have to get used to our health care practices, but I also feel that is not right to rush them in or to force them to participate in certain medical practices. For refugees that come to this country everything is new. Their home, food, and way of life change whether they like it or not. If I was put into a country where their medical practices are not the same as ours, I would be hesitate to follow. I do feel that assimilation is crucial, but it takes time to assimilate and I feel that the Lee’s did not have this time. Assimilation is more for the refugees to handle, but I feel as Americans we should be more open to other types of cultures and try to work with them from there. Every country has a different way of doing things and within those countries are people who do things differently. It is our job to respect those differences.

  3. I understand and I agree with you but not at the fullest extent. I recognize the point of assimilation but I think that we must also have some type of consideration for their culture. As adults we all know that it is hard to change our ways and adapt an entire new way of life. Therefore asking refugees to forget their entire way of thinking seems a tad bit much. I think that it will be a more effective care if the refugees were able to understand medical care better. To make it more understandable for refugees’ maybe America could figure out ways to relate the care to the refugee’s culture. For example providing pamphlets for different medical treatments in numerous languages and providing websites that will explain to their specific culture. This could also go as far as adding some of refugee’s cultures in to American practices, such as spiritual healing. In addition, I think that we should explain medical care in laymen’s terms. For example sometimes I am not fully aware of what the doctors are explaining to me so I can imagine how refugees must feel. Even with assimilation they may still not be able to understand medical treatments and many problems will still occur. So again I understand but I cannot agree with you fully about assimilation.

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