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Minjin Kim focused on health disparities among Asian American women

By Bryan Goodchild and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

marzo 04, 2020

Minjin Kim, PhD, learned through her doctoral research at UMass Boston that young women of Korean descent in the United States have low rates of vaccination against human papilloma virus, which causes cervical and other cancers. She has since dedicated her career to understanding and addressing cross-cultural differences that may account for this and other health disparities among the many different ethnic subgroups of Asian Americans. 

“There are huge data disparities and health disparities in Asian Americans, especially cancers. Asian American women have the lowest rates of cervical cancer [collectively], but if you look at subgroups of Asian Americans such as Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong and Cambodian, they have a higher incidence of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Kim. “They are struggling with cultural barriers and low health literacy which limits them from seeking health care.”

Kim dreamed of being a nurse from childhood. With family encouragement, she came from South Korea to the United States at age 17 for college and postgraduate studies. Now a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Jeroan Allison, MD, MS, chair and professor of population & quantitative health sciences, Kim is researching why some Asian American subgroups are less likely to use preventive health care services and developing evidence-based interventions.

Dr. Allison was a member of Kim’s dissertation committee at UMass Boston and a big influence on her decision to continue her research at UMass Medical School. She has modeled her work on his groundbreaking research that used a storytelling approach. Members of a vulnerable community provide positive messages in a culturally sensitive way to impact attitudes and behavior, leading to positive disease management choices.

Kim knew from her own experience that Asian cultures have always used oral histories to share information and experiences. She hypothesized that storytelling can be deployed to help underserved and underrepresented minority women understand and appreciate the importance of HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screening.

“Storytelling captures many people’s voices and their cultural and generational differences. It connects people and delivers cultural meaning and important information that can change attitudes and health behaviors. Their stories are so diverse that sometimes just regular informative health education doesn’t touch them,” said Kim. “We capture people’s stories about their health experiences and their cultural experiences on video and disseminate using mobile and web-based technologies that can help people feel more at ease communicating with others and health care providers.”

Kim’s most recent study, published in the journal Health Education & Behavior, conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial with Korean American college women to evaluate the effectiveness of a storytelling video intervention using mobile, web-based technology. Both the experimental group that received the storytelling video intervention and the comparison group that received informational written literature had greater knowledge of and a positive attitude toward the HPV vaccination immediately following the intervention. But at the two-month follow-up, the storytelling group was twice as likely to have received or planned to receive the HPV vaccination than the control group. 

Since men can transmit and be infected with HPV and can experience oral, anal and penile cancers as a result, it is recommended that boys as well as girls receive the vaccination. Kim will expand studies to include both men and women and other underserved populations.  

Kim explains her research in a new The Conversation article, below:
A simple way to promote HPV vaccination among Asian American women: Storytelling