“A year ago, we never thought we would have had this meeting. This is truly an opportunity to learn from each other.” With these words, SeonAe Yeo, PhD, RNC, president of the Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA), officially opened AAPINA’s 2004 Annual Conference–the first such national gathering in the association’s 12-year history.

The inaugural conference, held last August 7 at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco, drew a small but enthusiastic audience of AAPINA members and Asian American/Pacific Islander nursing students from around the country. Together they spent a very full day listening to speakers, viewing poster sessions on Asian American health topics, attending business meetings, networking, and brainstorming ideas in breakout discussion groups.

AAPINA was founded in 1992 by a group of 14 nurses who wanted to create a unified voice to advocate for equity and justice in nursing and health care for Asian American and Pacific Islander people in the U.S. and its territories. The association’s first president was nursing educator Kem Louie, PhD, RN, FAAN, who is a member of Minority Nurse’s editorial advisory board.

The First Annual AAPINA Conference was held in conjunction with the National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)’s 32nd Annual Institute and Conference, also at the Hyatt Embarcadero. In her opening remarks, AAPINA vice president and conference chair Jillian Inouye, PhD, APRN-BC, thanked the NBNA for its collaborative support. “We’re fortunate to have you as our ‘big sister’ to help sponsor our first conference,” she said. NBNA President Bettye Davis Lewis, EdD, RN, FAAN, responded in kind: “We are so happy to be here as your ‘big sister.’ This is an historic occasion.”

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Added Yeo, who is an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor, “Each minority group has different health disparities. Each of [our minority nursing organizations] must articulate our own issues–but at the end of the day, we have to work together. AAPINA can’t match the NBNA’s 32-year history, but we hope we will grow and thrive as they have.”

In keeping with the AAPINA conference’s theme of “Developing and Networking with Other Ethnic Minority Nurses,” the Asian American nurses enjoyed many opportunities to interact and share ideas, not just among themselves but also with prominent minority nurses from a variety of cultural backgrounds. In addition to several NBNA leaders, attendees included leaders from the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the Philippine Nurses Association of American, the National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association and even an NBNA member who registered for the AAPINA event because she was taking a transcultural nursing class.

Nurse executive Marilyn Chow, DNSc, RN, FAAN, a founding member of AAPINA who is vice president, patient care services, at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, was the conference’s keynote speaker. Discussing the role of cultural and linguistic competency in health care, she noted that many U.S. hospitals “are now experiencing a collision of cultures–the patients are more and more multicultural and so are the health care staff.”

But because of the emphasis on networking and learning from each other, Chow spent most of her allotted time facilitating open dialog between the audience members instead of merely giving a speech. The result was a lively, far-ranging discussion touching on everything from unmet Asian health needs and the nursing faculty shortage to the isolation felt by a Taiwanese graduate student in Chicago who said she receives little support from her nursing school “because the Asian population is not considered a priority in Chicago, compared to African Americans and Hispanics.”

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Dr. Yeo spoke passionately about the challenges of breaking down cultural and linguistic barriers that contribute to Asian American health disparities. “Unlike Hispanic subgroups, who all speak Spanish, Asians have more than 60 different languages,” she said. “And just knowing the language is not enough ; you must also have knowledge of the patient’s culture.

“We also need to fight stereotypes about Asian patients–for example, that they are stoic about pain,” the AAPINA president continued. “Just because they don’t express [their pain] doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.”

Another unaddressed Asian health care challenge in the U.S. is providing care to Japanese businesspeople who come over to America to work for a few years, bringing their spouses and families with them. “This group has very unique health care needs,” Yeo explained. “They are not interested in learning English, because they are only here short-term.”

For more information about the Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association, contact Dr. SeonAe Yeo at [email protected].

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