Homegrown Medicine: Doctors return to help Hmong community

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 22, 2012 

— Dr. Lesley Xiong and Dr. Lasley Xiong have finally made it back home to Merced -- this time for good.

The two Hmong sisters, Lesley, 31, and Lasley, 30, always dreamed of coming back to the community where they grew up and providing much-needed medical care to their underserved Hmong community.

A few years ago, they both left Merced to attend medical school. One went to Pennsylvania and the other to Washington, D.C. After completing their studies, they returned to California -- but not quite all the way home. For their residency program, they landed in Modesto, completing their training in June.

Recently their dream came true when the two young doctors began practicing medicine in Merced. Lesley began to work for Dignity Health Medical Group in August, while Lasley started there earlier this month.

"We couldn't wait to come back home and start this journey. It's something that we've been waiting for forever," Lesley said, while sitting down in the office they both share. "We grew up here and so coming back to serve our own community was just our dream, and now that we've come full circle, it just feels good."

Lasley said there's a huge Hmong population in Merced that they wanted to serve. "That's the reason why we went into medicine," Lesley said.

The Hmong community in Merced faces challenges in getting the health care it needs because of language, financial and cultural barriers, Lesley said. "That's something that we felt we needed to address," she said. "We went and did our training, and it was just time to come back home and address that issue."

Lasley said some people in Merced who knew of their goal were anticipating their return. "They had been waiting for us," she said, "and seeing people excited, makes you excited."

Their sister, Nancy Xiong, is also in the medical field and she also returned home in 2010, now working at Mercy Medical Center as a pharmacist.

Nancy said it's great to have her sisters back as well. "It seems more permanent now," she said of all the moving around they did to get to this point. "This is where our roots are."

The trio said their parents, Jouachao Blong Xiong and Youa Vang -- both Hmong refugees -- are the reason why they've come so far.

"They are role models. They certainly didn't grow up with the same opportunities we did," Lesley said. "They are our backbone, the reason why we are here."

Both doctors now hope to better educate the Merced Hmong community about the types of illnesses and diseases they might be susceptible to while promoting preventive care.

"Preventive care, I think, it's something that we really need to address in our Hmong population and establish trust, especially because of the cultural differences," Lesley said.

"I think that we as Hmong physicians are really at the front of the line and are able to connect with them more effectively, more clearly and being able to build that trust with them," she said.

Lasley said she also hopes they'll serve as role models for the Hmong youth and encourage them to pursue higher education, "especially (to try) to get them into the medical field, just because we are so under-represented."

Lesley wants to try to eliminate some of the myths the Hmong have about pursuing higher education dreams, such as it's too expensive for them or they aren't smart enough.

Lesley graduated from Georgetown University Medical School and Lasley from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. Lesley and Lasley did their last two years of training together in Modesto through the Valley Family Medicine residency program.

"I'm here to stay," Lesley said recently. "I definitely want to establish care here with my community, and my long-term goals are definitely to give back to my community and be able to take care of them."

Lasley said she can't predict the future, but thinks she'll also stay in Merced. "All my family is here," she said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercesunstar.com.

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