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Healing Beyond Borders

Youth Engagement Center alumna, future medical school student travels abroad to study healing practices
image of Kathy Nguyen UT

Ever since Kathy Nguyen came to Texas by way of Saigon, Vietnam, she has been determined to pursue the path the medical school—and to never for a moment take her parents’ sacrifices for granted.

“My family moved out here to give my brother and I the best education,” Nguyen says. “My father went to medical school in Vietnam but had to drop out because he couldn’t provide paperwork that was lost during the time when my grandma was sent to a re-education camp during the war, so this is my way of fulfilling both his dream and my own.”

While attending high school in Pflugerville, she joined the Youth Engagement Center to make her college dreams a reality. During her time in the program, she participated in leadership conferences, college-prep workshops, campus tours and many other activities designed to set students down the college-bound path.

“The leadership conferences were very inspirational,” says Nguyen, who is now a biochemistry junior at UT Austin. “It was great to get together with all the Austin-area students and practice our leadership skills through various activities. One lesson that stuck with me is that you should always be mindful of what’s best for the team, not just what’s best for you.”

She’s especially grateful for the program’s scholarship application guidance, which helped her earn a $20,000 Presidential Scholarship from The University of Texas at Austin. The scholarship also provided additional funding for study abroad, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study medicinal practices in Ghana, Africa.

“It was really helpful to look at traditional medicine in Ghana and to see it from a different perspective,” Nguyen says. “Growing up in Vietnam, I was accustomed to similar practices, like using animal and plant products for medicine. It’s interesting to see how some of these methods, which can be highly effective, are undermined in the U.S., where we prefer pharmaceuticals.”

Inspired by her experiences in West Africa—and here in the states—Nguyen is more determined than ever to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor. Even while volunteering at Dell Seton Medical Center in the COVID-19 ward during the darkest days of the pandemic, she remained committed to her goal.

“Now, I feel even more motivated to pursue medical school because there is such a need for more health care workers—and there are so many misconceptions about medicine that are impacting people’s health,” Nguyen says.

Before graduating in spring 2023, Nguyen hopes to study abroad again to broaden her knowledge of medicinal practices. In the meantime, she’s involved in several student organizations including the UT chapter of the Women’s Relief Initiative, which provides female hygiene products for women in developing countries. She also volunteers with Truc Viet, a local nonprofit that provides services such as language classes and citizenship assistance to Vietnamese immigrants.

Although Nguyen’s extracurricular activities take up much of her free time, she finds fulfillment in helping others. Looking back at her experiences in medical centers—here in Texas and abroad—she knows without a doubt she has found her calling.

“Back when I was volunteering at Dell Seton, I remember seeing the patients struggling and wanting more than anything to help them feel better,” Nguyen says. “That’s the main reason why I chose to become a doctor, so I can help people and make them well again.”