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Inside the mind of researcher Lan Doan

“I feel like this is my life’s work,” says Lan Doan, whose research on racial and ethnic health disparities was recently funded by the NIH.

Lan is pursuing a PhD in health promotion and health behavior. Before coming to Oregon State, she was a clinical research coordinator at Stanford University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Asian American studies and integrative biology from the University of California, Berkley and a Master of Public Health in community health and education from Touro University California.

What does your research entail?

“My dissertation examines the prevalence and determinants of cardiovascular disease in older Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, or AANHPI, populations and how neighborhood social environments impact health.

“My research interests focus on data disaggregation and how neighborhood social environments contribute to health disparities in AANHPI communities. My committee includes Veronica Irvin, Yumie Takata, Karen Hooker, Carolyn Mendez-Luck, Sheryl Thorburn and Kathleen Bogart.

“Data disaggregation is the idea that Asians and Pacific Islanders shouldn’t be lumped together. We are so different and make up over 50 countries and culture of origin and 100 languages. This is something we have to qualify every time we talk about our research. I’m interested in educating others about the diversity and disparities within this population, and also empowering others to work with these populations.”

“Addressing health disparities is increasingly important as the population becomes more diverse.”

What made you decide to get into this area of research?

“My family is the main motivation, but also the experiences I’ve had. My parents are refugees of the Vietnam War and my family has experienced similar health issues and social determinants of health that I am now researching. I try to separate my personal experience from research, but it is very close to home.”

Are you currently working on any specific projects related to your research?

“I recently received a R36 Dissertation Research Award to support my research entitled, ‘Disaggregating Asian American and Pacific Islander health data: Multilevel analysis of neighborhood and cardiovascular health using the Medicare health outcomes survey,’ from the National Institute on Aging.

“It’s a tremendous honor to have received this dissertation award and to be recognized by the National Institutes of Health for work on racial and ethnic health disparities — it’s particularly encouraging as a doctoral student. This work is an accumulation of all of the experiences and mentorship I’ve received, both inside and outside of academia, and encourages me to continue to work toward eliminating health disparities.”

What other projects are you involved with?

“I’m involved in the Women of Color Caucus at Oregon State, formed under the School of Social and Behavioral Health. The caucus aims to celebrate, empower and advocate for women of color at Oregon State, while maintaining an open membership policy and welcoming people of all backgrounds.

“There’s no organization like this that currently exists on campus and its purpose is to empower women of color in higher education and to address the low retention rates for faculty and women of color.

“I’m also co-director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity presented by the Asian and Pacific Islander Caucus for Public Health. It’s a seven-year program to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions toward achieving health equity. It’s been a great way to learn more about the health equity happening and it’s been inspirational to see the great work people are doing to champion health equity in their communities.”

What is your vision for the future?

“Part of my vision is a celebration of diversity, whether that’s in an academic institution or society. The stereotype for Asians is that they are the model minority, where all Asians are well off because they are supposedly all educated and they all have a high income, but also the idea that we don’t experience health disparities.

These broad statements are untrue. In fact, many sub-groups of Asians are socio-economically disadvantaged and at high risk for poor physical and mental health. I think about how I am going to reclaim that narrative and highlight AANHPI stories that are typically not told.

“I also have a vision of a society committed to health equity— where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthier and live their best life possible.

“I think if we uplift all communities, especially racial and ethnic minority communities, that benefits everyone. This vision of health equity is that everyone would see it as a priority in their work, regardless if they are directly or indirectly affiliated with public health. I don’t expect that that will happen in the next 20 years, but we can continue advancing this notion.”