April 8, 2019 - The Susan H. Mayer Professor in Health Equity at the School of Nursing & Health Studies delivered the 2019 Values Based Lecture, offering a message of equality and being kind to immigrants worldwide.
Jennifer Huang Bouey, PhD, MPH, MBBS, also a tenured associate professor of international health at the school, gave the keynote address on April 4 in the Bioethics Research Library.
She shared personal stories from her own emigration from China about 25 years ago, discussed data from some of her research projects on the health of the immigrant community, and presented information to dispel some of the myths about immigrants and health care.
“I am tremendously honored and humbled to be on the platform,” said Bouey, a physician and social epidemiologist, noting she is “basically just a nerd” who studies numbers to serve marginalized populations.
‘Good in Everyone’
Each year, the lecture is sponsored by the NHS Committee on Mission and Values. Carol Taylor, PhD, RN, professor of advanced nursing practice and a committee member, introduced Bouey.
“Jennifer is a genuinely good human being,” Taylor said. “She is unfailingly kind, responsible, generous, and supportive. She sees the good in everyone and respects the inherent dignity of those who are most vulnerable. Her light shines steady and bright in some of the darkest corners of our world.”
Bouey, also a member of the committee, opened her lecture by describing her decision to come to the United States in the mid-1990s. Back then, the country was an “abstract concept” for her, but one known for its focus on equality.
When she finally arrived at the airport one night in late August, a brand new world opened before her eyes: seeking lodging, discovering an uncrowded city with so few people on sidewalks and roadways, seeing a major wooded park in the middle of an urban area, and purchasing “bread with a hole in the middle” (aka a bagel).
While feeling privileged to be able to go to graduate school in the U.S., she recalls the palpable fear and stress all these years later: “I was completely lost in that moment.”
Bouey went on to earn her PhD at George Washington University, work at the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, and join the Georgetown University faculty 14 years ago.
Much of her research has involved gathering statistical data and working directly with communities to better understand health disparities and health care access issues faced by immigrants in the United States, as well as rural-to-urban migrants in China.
“I am really interested in understanding people on the move,” she said. The United Nations reports that between 2000-2017 the number of people who are migrants has grown from more than 170 million to close to 260 million.
During her lecture, she noted “facts” and “myths” involving immigrant health, such as: myth: “Immigrants in the U.S. abuse the U.S. welfare system” and fact: “Immigrants contributed more toward Medicare than they withdrew. They are net contributors to Medicare’s trust fund.” She also briefly reviewed the evolution of U.S. policies regarding immigration, including, for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Caring for ‘Newcomers’
Bouey shared her hope that the U.S. would further embrace its ideal of equality – which has been fought for in the country’s history through, for instance, the civil rights and women’s rights movements – in its present and future policies related to immigrants.
“The other versus us” mindset, she says, troubles her a great deal, and she called on everyone to “think about how we treat newcomers.”
Patricia Cloonan, dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies, welcomed the audience and said Bouey’s work “is really quite magnificent.”
“Her methodology is one that is really resonant with our values,” Cloonan said.