Asian American Health Care Workers Battle COVID And Racism

More than a year into the pandemic, some AAPI health care workers share their struggles of saving people while also dealing with hate.
Posted at 3:41 PM, May 03, 2021

When a patient exhibiting COVID symptoms went to an L.A. County ER, nurse practitioner Hengky Lim rushed to help. That patient wasn’t wearing a mask. 

"He coughed right in front of my face, right in front of my face. And I can see the saliva, the spit on my face shield," said Hengky Lim, Nurse Practitioner, Emergent Care.

At first, Lim didn't think it was intentional but the patient did it again: coughed on his face without a mask in the height of the pandemic.

"And he said to me, ‘Hey, it's because of you people, I got sick’ and he got up and he left," said Lim. 

Months later. … another patient dismissed Lim's recommendation to get an X-ray and instead shared with a White nurse that he didn't want any Asian health care workers treating him. Time is of the essence in the ER when it's about life and death. But Lim, who used to rush in, now thinks twice before approaching a patient at times double-checking with another nurse to make sure it's safe.  

"I've had another person joke around with me, like, 'why did you guys bring corona over here?'" said Dr. Serena Zhou-Talbert, Family Practitioner, Compassion Health Care.

As the only Asian physician in her clinic, Dr. Serena Zhou-Talbert says the microaggressions from her patients are starting to get to her. 

 "It wasn't really until recently that I have started to realize how harmful, how harmful they've been and how they have implicitly affected my mental health. Dr. Serena Zhou-Talbert.

She wrote an OpEd: "This Physician Has Had Enough of Anti-Asian Hate — And you should too." Despite making up nearly 6% of the U.S. population, Asians play a much bigger role in the health care field — they’re 17% of the physicians and nearly 9% of nurses in the U.S.

"Part of why Asians and Asian Americans can be targeted so easily is because in many ways we're still othered; we're still viewed as foreigners." Dr. Elisa Choi, Internist and Infectious Disease expert. 

All three health care workers we spoke to are American.

"The month of May is a time to recognize and acknowledge that we are Americans. It doesn't matter what our ancestry is. We're all Americans," Dr. Choi.