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Jen Rosio, University of Utah Health
Harmful Myths About Asian Americans in Medicine
Asian Americans face unique types of racism and discrimination that can make them feel invisible and out-of-place within our workspaces. By acknowledging this racism, we can take the first step to creating a more inclusive environment.

sian Americans are well-represented in academic medicine but continue to face discrimination in the workplace. Asian American discrimination can take some unique forms, such as the model minority myth and the forever foreigner stereotype.  

The experiences of Asian Americans, including healthcare providers, are typically overlooked because we are not considered underrepresented in medicine. However, Asian Americans experience racism in numerous environments, including professional settings. Our experiences are not the same as the white majority in medicine, nor are they the same as our Brown/Black colleagues.  

Although Anti-Asian sentiment in the United States is not new, the sharp rise in reported cases of discrimination since 2020 has shed light on the fact that Asian Americans do, in fact, experience racism. Educating people about these forms of racism is one way we can begin to combat this discrimination and ensure the Asian Americans who are part of our medical staff feel welcome and included. 

What is the Model Minority Myth? 

The model minority myth (MMM) is based on stereotypes of Asian Americans as whiz kids, geniuses, overachievers with Tiger moms who push them to succeed, etc. This myth promotes the idea that Asian Americans have achieved success within the United States through innate talents unique to their race. 

This myth is extremely damaging to Asian Americans. It minimalizes racism and discrimination that we experience while separating us from other communities of color.

It also lumps all Asian Americans, who come from more than 50 ethnic groups, into one identical group. Asian Americans practice a wide range of religions, customs, and traditions. We have unique immigrant stories, but the MMM makes us seem all the same. 

The MMM is particularly divisive in medicine and healthcare. Because Asians make up a greater proportion in medicine compared to the general population, it’s assumed there is no racism against Asians because how could we be so successful if there is discrimination against us? This belief that Asian Americans don’t face racism can affect admission policies at colleges and medical schools. It can even affect how colleges; communities and the government allocate resources to immigrants. There may not be scholarships for Asian Americans, for instance, even if they are the first generation of their family to attend college.  

The MMM also has a history of being used to pit Asian Americans against other races. The term was coined by sociologist William Peterson in 1966. Peterson stereotyped Japanese Americans as a rule-abiding and hardworking group which overcame the adversity of internment during World War II within 20 years. Peterson's work used the success of Japanese Americans to refute Black Americans claims of racial oppression during the Civil Rights movement. The MMM rewrites history and dismisses the experiences of all minority communities.  

What is the “Forever Foreigner” Theory? 

The Forever Foreigner (or Perpetual Foreigner) theory describes systemic racism against Asian Americans as people who can never truly be American. No matter if we are born in the United States or our families have been here for generations, we are treated as if we will always be foreign to this country. 

The forever foreigner stereotype became more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. Though the origins of the virus had nothing to do with Asian Americans, many of us were treated as if we had brought the disease to the United States and continued to spread it. This led to an increase in Asian hate-crimes, violence and murders. Furthermore, this potentially worsened the divide between Asian Americans and other BIPOC communities.  

This stereotype, combined with the MMM, can make Asian Americans feel invisible. While we are treated as if we don’t belong in white American spaces, we are also treated as if we don’t belong with other minority communities because of the ways we have benefited from the MMM stereotype. Feeling in-between and invisible can make Asian Americans feel like even more of an “other.” 

We are Asian Americans in academic medicine (mostly Family Medicine) who have been affected by the MMM as well as other aspects of Asianization, and have watched with dismay as anti-Asian sentiment has risen. While our experiences are not reflective of all Asian Americans, we thought it was important to shed light on the experiences of an under-researched group.

By talking about these myths and stereotypes, we can help dispel them and improve the work environment for our Asian American colleagues, residents and students.  


Candace Chow

Director of Education Research, Office of Curriculum, Co-Director of PROMIS2U, University of Utah Health

Michael Chen

Physician, Family Medicine, University of Utah Health

Justine Ly

GME Trainee, Family Medicine, University of Utah Health

Darin Ryujin

Associate Professor, Associate Chair for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Director of Inclusion and Diversity, University of Utah Physician Assistant Program, University of Utah Health

Marlana Li

Assistant Professor (Clinical), Family Medicine, University of Utah Health

Jose Rodriguez

Associate Vice President for Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, University of Utah School of Medicine

Tiffany Ho

Physician, Family Medicine, Assistant Professor (Clinical),, University of Utah Health

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