MCW Student Pursues Passion for Providing Culturally Competent Care for Asian Americans

MCW student pursues passion for providing culturally competent care for Asian Americans

Adileen Sii remembers being a grade schooler accompanying her grandmas to doctor’s visits to translate for them.

“My grandma depended on my 10-year-old self to accurately relay her story because others did not understand her,” says Sii, whose parents and grandmothers immigrated to the United States from Sibu, Malaysia. “Not having a strong command of either of my languages, I was nervous, but did the best I could.”

Sii, a first-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), recalls those experiences as transformative. They planted the seed of her interest in pursuing a career in medicine and her passion to advocate for cultural competency in healthcare.

“I was fortunate to help ease my grandma’s anxiety and ensure her concerns were heard, but not everyone has someone to advocate for them,” she says. “Being able to provide that sense of comfort and be able to be that bridge is a driving factor in my desire to pursue medicine.”

Finding places where she felt comfortable being Asian American is something Sii dealt with herself on different levels growing up in the small central Wisconsin city of Wisconsin Rapids. There, she spent most of her time at her parents’ restaurant, called Shaw Lee.

Adileen Sii and family

“It was the place where I learned how to serve my community, whether it was a smile, a listening ear or simply a warm meal to get our customers going for the day,” she says. This sparked her passion for advocacy and community involvement.

She spent much of her childhood in the restaurant doing chores and playing board games with the visiting customers. As she got older, she began bussing tables, preparing orders and serving food.

Still, at school she was careful not to bring her ethnic foods for lunch, instead asking her grandmother to pack her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sii, one of the few Asians in her school, says she feared judgement or facing difficult questions regarding her food being “different.”

“Growing up, I struggled with my cultural identity and felt like I had to adapt to the cultural norms around me,” she says.

Finding Culture as an Asian American in Healthcare

Heading off to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison helped her explore and gain confidence in her cultural heritage as she found close communities who shared similar experiences in multicultural student leadership organizations.

“I found a community in which I truly felt like I could be myself by embracing my Chinese and Malaysian cultural heritages, something that I still am proud of today,” Sii says.

She also became involved in advocacy through a multicultural student organization, spreading awareness about the disproportionate risk of osteoporosis in Asian American women.

“These experiences helped me explore how I want to serve and advocate with cultural competence and compassion as a future physician,” Sii says.

Sii graduated from Madison in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology and a certificate in global health, the first in her family to attend and graduate from college.

Adileen Sii

Continuing Her Cultural Advocacy Work Through the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association

Her next stop educational stop was MCW, where she continues her path toward cultural awareness and community engagement as co-president of the MCW chapter of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA).

Through APAMSA, Sii has helped with health screenings at Hmong community health fairs and created a database of MCW alumni and faculty who identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, referred to as AANHPI.

“It’s a way strengthen our community’s cohesiveness and connect students with shadowing or mentorship opportunities with those who may have shared similar experiences growing up,” Sii says.

Through APAMSA, she and others also advocate on health issues including Hepatitis B, which disproportionately affects the AANHPI community, and are working with other groups on a bone marrow registry drive. Being in the group also has helped Si find others dedicated to providing better care for people like her parents and grandmothers.

Adileen Sii at health fair

“Everyone is so genuinely passionate, and it’s so inspiring to be a part of this organization,” she says.

Sii thanks her parents for nurturing her passion for the community and supporting her educational journey, even connecting her with a customer at the restaurant who provided a valuable volunteer opportunity at a hospice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My parents have always worked hard to be my best supporters,” Sii says. “Their unwavering resilience in overcoming the hardships of adapting to a new culture and language continues to inspire me.”

She’s also thankful to previous APAMSA board members for guiding her throughout her transition to co-president of the organization, and the current board for their hard work in planning and executing this semester’s events. As far as faculty, she says Kajua Betsy Lor, PharmD, associate professor and chair of the School of Pharmacy Department of Clinical Sciences, has been a great mentor.

Adileen Sii at APAMSA meeting

In terms of future goals, Sii says that no matter what specialty she goes into as a physician, she wants to continue advocating for culturally competent care. For her that includes being able to provide care culturally sensitive to each person’s unique needs, avoiding stereotypes and biases, and advocating for increased language access.

“Being able to effectively communicate is critical in building trust and providing the best care for patients,” Sii says. “I want everyone to be able to have someone to advocate for them or have a physician who understands how to prioritize an individual’s cultural values while also providing the care they need.”

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