Tam Nguyen and her family escaped war-torn Vietnam by boat when she was two years old. After being rescued by an oil tanker and eventually settling in the U.S., her family struggled to acclimate to American culture.
Today, as a doctoral student and nurse researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Nguyen focuses on the challenges people from disadvantaged and immigrant backgrounds often face as they try to manage their health. That includes gaining an understanding of the role of health literacy plays within these populations, and particularly among Vietnamese Americans with hypertension.
She explains, "Management of a chronic disease requires some level of understanding of medical terminology and being able to communicate your symptoms or problems to a doctor, but many Vietnamese Americans have limited English proficiency."
Nguyen is working toward a PhD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Her future career in health promotion and health prevention research began to take shape in 2006 when she received a joint master's degree in nursing and public health from Hopkins. She hopes to finish her doctorate by fall 2010.
Nguyen's first two years as a Hopkins PhD candidate were paid for by an institutional pre-doctoral award from the National Institute of Nursing Research at NIH. Her third year has been funded by another institutional NIH-funded pre-doctoral award—part of a collaboration involving the Schools of Nursing, Medicine, and Public Health—and focuses on interdisciplinary clinical research. In addition to institutional funding, PhD students at Hopkins are assisted by their advisors to apply for individual awards such as the National Research Service Award (NRSA) at NIH.
"I've always been interested in the research process and I thought that it would be a good fit for my interests," Nguyen says. "It has developed my critical thinking skills, my ability to debate issues, to question ideas and thoughts. But what I didn't realize was how much it would transform the way I think about problems, the way I see issues not just in science or nursing but in the larger context of society and the world." She adds, "At Hopkins, there's an intellectual environment that promotes that exploration of awesome ideas and makes you critically evaluate the world around you."