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Mutual Collaboration: Empowering Ethnic Minority Women, Empowering Myself

So, Winnie K.W. PhD, RN

doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000398

Author Affiliation: The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.

The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Correspondence: Winnie K.W. So, PhD, RN, The Nethersole School of Nursing, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 7/F, Esther Lee Bldg, New Territories, Hong Kong SAR, China (

Accepted for publication March 29, 2016.

While conducting a research study to examine the knowledge of and attitudes toward cancer screening services among South Asians in Hong Kong and how well those services were used,1 I approached community centers providing support programs for ethnic minorities as an initial recruitment strategy. However, it was not successful—only a limited number of eligible participants were recruited. The main reason was that the active membership of the centers did not change much, and the same group of South Asians attended the various regular programs. So we had to explore other strategies to recruit new participants. Throughout the process, we found that the most effective ways of accessing eligible participants were in fact suggested by the South Asians themselves. They told us how to connect with ethnic minority organizations and the leaders of temples or mosques. They showed us where they usually gathered together: parks, schools, and workplaces (such as restaurants and salons). They suggested we attend annual festivals where they usually gathered to celebrate. They also gave us tips on when they had enough free time to become involved in our research activities, thus minimizing the number of those declining to participate or failing to complete a questionnaire. I have to say that success in recruiting a sufficient number of participants was due to not only my team’s efforts but also the South Asians’ own knowledge, experience, and support.

Work with ethnic minority colleagues provided us with insights into their actual health needs, and my research team and I gained much valuable experience in the process of developing multimedia interventions for South Asian women to promote breast health and cervical cancer prevention. The minority colleagues reminded me and my team that the usual ways of delivering health information to the general public may not be applicable to a different ethnic group. For example, the term “cervix” does not exist in Nepali. Thus, we learned that we should use simple descriptions when instructing Nepali women about what the cervix is and where it is located. When developing a health booklet on breast health for Pakistani women, comments from their menfolk should also be considered because of male dominance in Pakistani communities. In fact, advice from Pakistani men caused us to be more cautious in using pictures when encouraging Pakistani women’s breast awareness. For example, when a picture of a naked woman is used, her facial appearance and nipples should not appear in the picture. Furthermore, apart from women’s wellness centers, youth health centers and interpretation services should be added to the health booklet because of the relatively young age of marriage among South Asians and the language barriers that hinder access to healthcare services.

As a researcher focusing on the Chinese population for the past years, my experience of working with ethnic minorities helped me to pay more attention to the discrepancies in the perception of health needs between health professionals and patients.2,3 To be humble and learn from your patients is the first step toward delivering person-centered care. My experience of conducting ethnic minority projects has increased my awareness of the importance of studying the culture and health needs of such groups and what kind of health promotion strategies they find acceptable and effective. The purpose of my initiation into the development and implementation of multimedia interventions was to empower South Asian women in promoting breast health and cervical cancer prevention. In fact, I, too, was empowered by the group to understand myself better as well as the actual health needs of South Asians.

When I was discussing this experience with my close friend who is a qualitative researcher, she quickly linked it to action research. Her enthusiasm motivated me to read some action research articles highlighting the “mutual collaboration of researcher and practitioner”—characteristic of action research to identify potential problems, their underlying causes, and possible interventions.4 I was impressed by her passion for carrying out qualitative research and integrating her expertise into daily life. Her quick response also provided insights into the synergistic effects of collaboration between nurses and patients in delivering person-centered care, for mutual empowerment.

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1. So WK, Chan CW, Choi KC, Chan DN. Perspectives on the utilization and service needs of cancer preventive services for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong: a study protocol. J Adv Nurs. 2013;69(9):2116–2122.
2. Lei CP, Har YC, Abdullah KL. Informational needs of breast cancer patients on chemotherapy: differences between patients’ and nurses’ perceptions. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2011;12(3):797–802.
3. Hartmuller VW, Desmond SM. Professional and patient perspectives on nutritional needs of patients with cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2004;31(5):989–996.
4. Holter IM, Schwartz-Barcott D. Action research: what is it? How has it been used and how can it used in nursing? J Adv Nurs. 1993;18(2):298–304.
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