HomeBad Ass AsiansFirst Hmong American Receives Dual M.D.-Ph.D. Degrees

First Hmong American Receives Dual M.D.-Ph.D. Degrees

Yeng Her family
Yeng Her celebrates with his family
Photo from Mayo Clinic

The first Hmong American has received dual M.D.-Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

Dr. Yeng Her spent the first 10 years of his childhood in Hmong refugee camps around Thailand. In the camps, he witnessed the injuries of the soldiers who had fought with the United States during the Vietnam War. His uncle, whose body was partially paralyzed, was one of his first inspirations to pursue medicine.

“He didn’t really get the treatment he needed at the camp,” Her said. “That had a pretty profound effect on me.”

In 1994 Her arrived in Wisconsin with no formal education and no knowledge of English, according to the Mayo Clinic. Nevertheless, he entered the fifth grade, scared and alone.

“It was extremely tough,” Her says. “These became motivations for me to work harder in school and to never give up on my dreams.”

Another incentive to study medicine developed during his mother’s kidney failure. At 16, Her was responsible for breaking the language and cultural barriers between his Hmong mother and American doctors. While his mother wanted traditional herbal medicine, doctors insisted that dialysis was crucial for her survival.

“I felt powerless,” he said. “That lit a fire inside of me to go into medicine and try to bridge these gaps.”

Thankfully, his mother accepted treatment and eventually received a kidney transplant. She remains in good health today.

Her went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then enrolled in the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The program aims to provide training and support to upcoming scientists from marginalized groups.

Her’s experience with PREP helped him to prepare his successful application to Mayo’s Medical Scientist Training Program. He was one of only 170 students in the United States to be accepted into a National Institute of Health (NIH)-sponsored program.

Towards the end of his studies, Her eventually decided to specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).

“I want to go into PM&R because of my passion to help people regain function,” he says. “As a child growing up in the refugee camps, I saw many people with war-related injuries who did not receive the medical care that they desperately needed. That planted a seed to make it a goal of mine to help these people in my career.”

His next step is to complete a medical internship at the University of California, San Francisco Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research. The center is located in the second-largest Hmong community in the United States.

“This is a great match because of the opportunities to work with Hmong and other immigrant groups,” Her said. “This is a perfect opportunity to give back to my community.”
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