May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada. Adopted in 2002, it is a way to recognize the contributions of Asian Canadians to our society. The diversity of our population is what makes Canada such a remarkable place and provides strength to the backbone of our country.
As an Asian Canadian physician, I view this as a time to reflect on the contributions Asian Canadians have made to the field of medicine and the steps we can take in the future. It is estimated that 20% of current medical students in Canada identify as being from Chinese or South Asian heritage. We have come a long way since 1922, when Dr Victoria Chung became the first person of Asian heritage to graduate from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. This was only 1 year before the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923, which barred Chinese people from entering Canada and essentially halted all immigration from China for 24 years. The huge strides that have been made should be celebrated by all Canadians, but at the same time, more work can be done to promote health equity among people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
As physicians, we have the important role of recognizing the unique health needs and concerns of Asian Canadians, one of the most significant health issues being the high prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. More than 60% of the world’s diabetic population comes from Asian countries. Asians may develop diabetes at a younger age because of their genetic predisposition; therefore, complications from diabetes may also develop earlier and are more common. There is also a high prevalence of hepatitis B among Asian populations, exposing them to higher risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. These disparities can be due to genetic and environmental factors but can also be complicated by cultural and language barriers that can make it difficult to access care.
To address these disparities, it is imperative for us to provide culturally competent care to Asian Canadian patients. This means understanding and respecting our patients’ cultural beliefs, values, and practices, and working in a collaborative manner to provide effective treatment and care. In addition to addressing the health needs of Asian Canadians, it is important for us to be aware of the diversity and richness of Asian heritage. Asian Heritage Month provides a unique opportunity for us to learn about the history and contributions of Asian Canadians. We have the responsibility to advocate for the health and well-being of all Canadians, including Asian Canadians. By working collaboratively in a culturally competent way, we can help address health disparities and promote health equity for all. I invite you to take part in the various Asian Heritage Month activities taking place in your community.
—Yvonne Sin, MD
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2. Wong MQ. #862 the remarkable Victoria Chung. The British Columbia Review. 8 July 2020. Accessed 21 March 2023. https://thebcreview.ca/2020/07/08/862-wong-price-yu-searching-for-victoria-chung.
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