The Role of Culture in Shaping Health Perceptions and Behaviors of Resettled Karen Refugees

Jessica L. Lenderts, Sarah J. Hoffman, Jaci Stitch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: While the many health vulnerabilities and challenges experienced by refugees have been previously documented, few studies have addressed the strengths-focused response strategies that women refugees, in particular, engage to navigate health systems and experiences associated with displacement. Our study attempts to document this among members of one group, the Karen, who represent a significant proportion of refugees resettled in the United States over the past decade. The purpose of this study was to explore how a sample of resettled Karen refugee women construct meaning around health, particularly in the context of cultural values, community, and migration. Methodology: This research took place in a series of ethnographic case studies documenting experiences of resilience, identity construction, and mothering among Karen refugee women from Burma. Data were collected through participant interviews with 12 Karen refugee women living in the United States. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed to identify themes relating to culturally influenced and newly emerging perceptions of health, identity, motherhood, and migration. Results: Participants identified correlates of doing, such as the ability to work and physical energy, as positively related to health, while the inability to do things was negatively related to health. Personal health also encompassed the health of family and community. Discussion: Women in this sample drew on broad, culturally informed ways of being to explain their health experiences. Implications of these findings are presented regarding how organizations and health providers can approach their work with refugees in culturally informed and relevant ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-152
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Transcultural Nursing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Sidhra Musani, whose insights into the role of culture in health greatly assisted in the development of this manuscript. We also express our gratitude to the participants, who generously shared their time and thoughts with us. The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • community health
  • ethnography
  • holistic health
  • maternal/child
  • migration
  • nursing and anthropology
  • refugees and asylum seekers
  • transcultural health
  • women’s health

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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