New York City AAPI: More Than What Meets The Eye

Over the past month, I have commuted 80 hours, talked with approximately 200 strangers, and used 2 times more Mandarin than English. This summer, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work as a Hepatitis B Program Research Intern at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in New York City.

The Health Center is a nonprofit federally-qualified community health center licensed by the New York State Department of Health. Its mission is to eliminate disparities in health, improve health status, and expand access to the medically under-served (treating all patients regardless of immigration status or income) with a focus on Asian Americans.

The Health Center has a rich history that dates back to 1971, when volunteer doctors, nurses, social workers, and students organized a 10-day Chinatown Health Fair; the first clinic ever held in the streets of New York City’s Chinatown. Forty years later, the Health Center has multiple locations throughout the city, with adequate clinical space and services that meet growing community demands of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in New York City. The Health Center is a leader in providing comprehensive primary care services that are high quality, culturally relevant, and affordable. It also promotes the health of the community through innovative, award-winning health education and advocacy programs, and by recruiting bilingual and bi-cultural health care providers and staff.

With regards to health disparities, the Health Center won the 2015 Tisch Community Health Prize for its Hepatitis B Program. Hepatitis B is a life long liver disease caused by a viral infection that is more common among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) than any other ethnic group, with 1 in 10 AAPIs having chronic hepatitis B. Although AAPIs make up less than 5% of the U.S. population, they account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic hepatitis B. Unfortunately, the disease can progress without visible symptoms and lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer, or premature death. Furthermore, since there is no cure, physicians need to treat chronic hepatitis B patients on a case-by-case basis according to Clinical Guideline Regulations. This is why effective education about hepatitis B prevention, transmission, and screening is essential.

As a research intern, I am taking the lead on a survey evaluation of a health education comic book on hepatitis B called “The Test,” developed by a local Asian American artist in partnership with the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center Hepatitis B Team and Health Education Department in order to make hepatitis B education more engaging for all ages. Each day, I administer 15-minute surveys in English and Mandarin to patients in the waiting rooms and analyze survey data in preparation for a poster presentation at the American Public Health Association’s conference. My goal by summer’s end is to complete at least 100 surveys, revise and improve the health education material, and provide meaningful data about where New York City stands in terms of hepatitis B awareness.

So far, I have administered 86 surveys to patients of varied ethnicity (including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Indian, Filipino, Latino, Spanish, White, and African American), ages, genders, and educational backgrounds at the Internal Medicine Unit of the Health Center. The work has been both challenging and enjoyable. Due to the nature of human subject research, I have had many insightful one-on-one interactions with patients.

In a short period of time, NYC Chinatown and Charles B. Wang Community Health Center have taught me so much about public health, social justice, and my Chinese-American roots. Gradually, I am learning the nuances of my culture and that there is more depth to each person or situation than what meets the eye. As the American healthcare system falls short in delivering culturally effective care and bridging health disparities gaps, I realize how important it is to continue advocating for the Asian American community.

Thank you for reading my blog. More posts/updates to come!

-Michelle Yan ’19

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