Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Cambodian Americans, community-based participatory research, health access, community health work, public health social work

Major Advisor

Nina Rovinelli Heller

Associate Advisor

S. Megan Berthold

Associate Advisor

Salome Raheim

Associate Advisor

Sengly Kong

Field of Study

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Since 1975, Cambodians have sought survival in the United States by escaping from extreme forms of violence, torture, and other traumas from the Khmer Rouge genocide and refugee camps. Although some have lived within the United States for several decades, many Cambodian Americans continue to experience inadequate access to health that results in ongoing poor health outcomes, such as physical suffering, psychological distress, and premature death. Rooted in social determinants (e.g., social economic status, education, stress), these poor health outcomes have led to disproportionate rates of illness (i.e. health disparities) when compared to the general population. Improving health access, defined as having the available resources to address key social determinants, may improve health outcomes.

This study explored Cambodian Americans’ experience of health access from the perspective of Cambodian community health workers (CHWs). This community-based participatory research employed qualitative methodology to understand health access from a public health lens and critical pedagogical framework. Findings suggest that although Cambodian Americans are survivors of historical trauma, the silence and invisibility they have experienced continues within the United States today through cultural invasion. Additionally, cultural synthesis and healing may occur when interventions address the social, cultural, economic, and political marginalization of Cambodian Americans. Although their lived experiences may be unique, many other communities share the process of cultural invasion and the resulting effects on health. Public health social work is ideally suited to advance knowledge regarding health access; highlight the unique roles of CHWs; and challenge social, economic, and political injustice for Cambodian Americans and other communities that experience similar effects of marginalization on health.