Coming to America
Desire to practice medicine motivates alum toward new degrees
Bao Nguyen (Biochemistry, ’19) may be one of Kennesaw State’s most determined graduates. At 47, he fully expects to fulfill his dream of becoming a medical doctor – again.
A trained neurologist in Vietnam, Nguyen hoped to practice in America. However, a dozen years since immigrating to the United States, he is still several years away from obtaining a U.S. medical degree.
Nguyen, who graduated from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Ho Chi Minh City in 1996, was 24 years old when he became a doctor for the first time.
“The medical school system in Vietnam differs from the U.S.,” he explained. “In Vietnam, you take the entrance exam after you graduate from high school. If you are selected, you are trained in medical school for six years and graduate as a general practitioner. From there, you can do a residency or choose your own specialty and get further training within that specialty later.”
Following med school, Nguyen served a three-year residency program in Vietnam and worked as a neurologist until permanently settling in the U.S. with his young family in 2007.
Due to a series of unfortunate events, he was unable to transfer his medical license to the U.S. and while he passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination, he was not matched with any residency program – a requirement for becoming a physician.
Since coming to America, he has run the gauntlet of this country’s complicated medical licensing laws for foreign doctors, which many say often dissuade immigrants from becoming physicians. Rather than give up on his dream, however, he decided to double down, which is what makes his story one of true grit and determination.
Currently working as a sleep technician for FusionSleep in Atlanta, he has held various jobs during the past dozen years to support his family, which includes his wife, Hong, and 16- and 10-year-old sons.
Over the past six years, Nguyen has done several internships and shorter externships at local hospitals and clinics, as well as in Rome, Ga., Warner Robins, Ga., and Mobile, Ala.
“The internships and externships remind me about what I love about medicine and why it is worth it to go back to school and do it all over again,” he said.
From practices dealing in family medicine to pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry, Nguyen has compiled a lengthy list of experiences and garnered a wealth of physician recommendations attesting to his strong work ethic.
“I got to see and interact with patients,” he said. “I was able to perform diagnostics on them, read their tests results and plan treatments. I got to put my medical knowledge to use and these experiences re-enforced my passion and desire to practice medicine again.”
Despite the language and cultural differences between Vietnam and the U.S., Nguyen said what makes for a good physician in one country is similar to any other.
“To be a good doctor, you need to have compassion. You don’t just treat disease but, instead, you care for a person,” he said. “Having a good bedside manner is also important. But most importantly, you have to love what you do because only then does work becomes more enjoyable.”
Nguyen’s wife, Hong, helped motivate him to continue his education. Hong, who works as a psychiatry nurse practitioner in community health for Highland River Health in the Cherokee Recovery and Wellness Center in Canton, also is a KSU alum having graduated from KSU in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
There’s no mistaking the pride Nguyen feels in her accomplishments as he notes her advanced medical training.
“After graduating from Kennesaw State’s nursing program, she got a family nurse practitioner master’s degree in 2016 at South University and she recently earned her post master’s degree in psychiatry from Georgia College and State University,” he said.
It’s clear that Hong’s experience as a student at KSU greatly influenced his own decision to attend her alma mater.
He has no regrets about coming to America, he said, and offered advice for others who seek to travel the same path.
“Never give up on your dream. Know your passion and what you want to then stay focused and keep working and working hard toward your goals,” he said. “Sometimes when the thing does not turn out the way you expect, just hang on and continue to work hard. It will work out if you stay on course.”
After a four-year commitment to put himself on track to enter medical school in this country, he received a new bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at KSU in May. His hard work and excellent grades paid off, earning him the distinction of graduating summa cum laude.
– Robert S. Godlewski
Photos by Jason Getz