Interview with Alexander Nguyen

Urban Bioethics @ Temple
9 min readFeb 12, 2021

-conducted by Providenza Loera Rocco, JD, MSW, MBE, HEC-C

When did you realize you wanted to become a doctor?

To be completely honest, I spent a lot of my life following the stereotypical Asian immigrant instructions of either becoming a doctor, lawyer, and engineer. With most difficult things, unless you have a genuine passion for the task you’re trying to accomplish, you won’t last long. And, I definitely had a breaking point during the middle of my undergraduate career. Having said that, I had to do quite a bit of soul searching and work on myself to figure out what was in my heart to do for the rest of my life as a career. A big part of that soul searching was practicing meditation on my own and attending a meditation retreat center nearby my school. I did actually find that I enjoyed the path of going into medicine. I realized that my purpose in life was to serve others and heal others, using my best traits, namely connecting with people. So, here I am at LKSOM, proudly walking that path.

What made you want to pursue a master’s in Urban Bioethics?

My own family background and history is definitely my single most inspiration for pursuing a masters in Urban Bioethics. We’re taught that urban communities are dense, disparate, and diverse. With those communities, you have some unique, challenging obstacles towards providing a good life for its citizens. Having grown up with parents that are Vietnam War refugees, I most certainly witnessed and experienced the challenges of leading a good life that come with the aftermath of a civil war. There’s a lot of unaddressed trauma, language barrier issues, and a dearth of health education awareness for example. I thought about my own experiences and recognized the truth that there are numerous stories like my family’s and that they deserve somebody that understands how to care for them. By gaining tool sets in the program, I would be better able to make the best decisions for my future patients and hopefully spread that among the future clinicians I get to mentor someday.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in San Jose, California. My family is from central Vietnam in the city of Quy Nhơn. The photo below is at a beach at Phước Lý where my dad was raised.

What do you like about Philadelphia?

I have only been living in Philadelphia for almost two years and I love its character. I don’t think the weather is bad at all. I think people here are generally nice, and I love the scenery. I often go for runs on Kelly Drive and around the Art Museum. I’m still not over the fact that the Rocky Steps are there and get excited each time I go by. Philadelphia also has a pretty awesome combat sports scene that I started to get into. I’m just completely blessed to be where I’m at and in this city. I get to pursue a top notch medical education while challenging myself athletically. I really couldn’t complain at all. Also, Gritty is definitely my favorite mascot.

What do you do for fun?

I do a lot of things for fun. If we’re talking socially, I am pretty much game for anything. Lately for the past year, it’s just been watching TV and movies with my best friends. The Boys, The Mandalorian are shows that definitely carried me week to week as highlights. I grew up playing a lot of sports from doing cross country running, boxing, bodybuilding, powerlifting, so a big part of my life is doing something active. It has a direct effect on my happiness and I find it extremely grounding for me. The newest sport I’ve taken up since August 2020 is Muay Thai. It’s Thai Kickboxing also known as “the art of eight limbs”. I have honestly been kind of obsessed with it since starting. Not because I like combat and hurting people, but I think it’s because it’s new to me, and I’m really bad at it. So, the process of getting better at it excites me tons. I do plan on competing in the ring someday because why not.

How has the pandemic affected you?

The pandemic hit me at a time where I was already presented with my life’s hardest challenges. I was still finishing up my ACMS program in order to get into medical school. As March 2020 came around and lockdown orders were in place, I lost access to the gym, the temple, and my friends all of which were important parts of my life that held me down. I suffered from a lot of chronic stress, anxiety and depression during the beginning of the pandemic, not knowing if I’d be able to complete the task of reaching the required GPA and MCAT to matriculate into the MD Class of 2024. Like most, I worried about the safety of my family back at home. On multiple occasions and still to this day, I worry about not being able to say goodbye to my parents if they were to get sick and have complications. During the California fires, my home was actually ordered to evacuate the night before my first gross anatomy exam as an M1. I began to get used to accepting that I could lose my family.

How I got through it and still get through it though are by remembering stories of human resilience. I remember my dad’s life story. He escaped Vietnam at the age of 17 by boat, and went on a treacherous voyage for 21 days at sea with 98 other people. The voyage killed 50–80% of the hundreds of thousands of people who decided to become “boat people”. My dad and many others were able to come to countries such as America, Canada, and Australia to seek refuge and start a new life. My dad was able to get his undergraduate and masters degree, later working for IBM in the 80s. I think about that story of resilience and remembered that the human spirit is far tougher than we think. There are extremely dark times in life. Like when a country goes into civil war, and its own civilians are massacring each other in their homes and leaves its own country in ruins where people have no other choice but to escape their own homeland on a tiny fisherman’s boat. But, there are also times of light, where there’s a beautiful life after suffering. One of my favorite Buddhist quotes is, “No mud, no lotus”.

I held onto the story of my people every single day through the pandemic. I adjusted my training methods with some home gym equipment, started running outdoors, started brewing my own coffee with a french press, doing whatever to make things work because I had no other option. I also started practicing gratitude more often. Even when things seemed so bleak, I could find many things to be grateful for, such as my good health, my friends & family, my laptop, and my future in medicine.

What are you currently watching on Netflix?

I restarted Bojack Horseman. But, I have a bad relationship with that show. It’s like my fourth time watching it, and I actually do not think I am going to keep watching it. I think I got emotionally attached to it. Weird, right? It’s a powerful, emotional show that tells the story of a cartoon horse that tries to find meaning in his life. I’d also like to add that you should not watch this cartoon with any kids around.

What has been your favorite class in med school/urban bioethics and why?

My favorite class in Urban Bioethics is when we had a guest speaker come in from Cease Fire. I forget the individual’s name, but he truly was amazing to listen to. He told his story about having a history of being involved in crime and drug dealing but later reforming and becoming somebody who actively de-escalated violent situations. I love that story a lot because a part of me at the core identifies with that. I’ve seen the problems my own community faces and I will stop at nothing to go back and do right by them. He’s definitely an inspiration to me. Talk is cheap, I love it when I see somebody who risks it all and does what needs to be done. Similarly, during the MLK Jr. Day of Service, Mr. Solomon Jones spoke to us, and his speech was incredibly inspirational. He constantly asked, “What are you willing to risk?” in order to do the right thing.

Personally, I’ve stacked up so much extra stuff onto my plate outside of medical school. I’ve taken on things such as research, and volunteer work. And, whenever I feel like I’m in trouble and overworked, I just ask myself, “What am I willing to risk?”, and my answer is “everything”. I am completely willing to risk my own comfort in order to do the things I was meant to do in order to help others and be the best future doctor I can be.

Where did you go to undergrad and what did you study?

I went to Boston University and studied Human Physiology. My sister’s gonna be mad at me for using this photo.

Have you had a mentor who has impacted your journey?

I do have a mentor who has impacted my journey. I met Dr. Seliga when I was a junior at BU. I met her for the first time during my interview when I was applying to become a Learning Assistant for the Systems Physiology course. I don’t know what she saw in me to give me the spot in her highly selective program. I really don’t. But, I’m glad she did because she may have been the only faculty member that actually believed in my capabilities as a student. During my freshman year of college, I was not a good student by any means and actually had a 1.9 GPA and put on academic probation. My career as a pre-med student was essentially over. But, I decided to stay on the path and Dr. Seliga gave me a chance, mentored me on how to teach students better, how to organize my time better as a student and how to study better. I don’t think she’ll ever really truly understand what working for her in this program meant for me, but it still to this day means the world. I hold myself to high standards of integrity and honesty to this day because of her.

Tell us about your family!

I’m proud of every single person in my family. My dad as I’ve mentioned before is a high level engineer who worked from having no money in his pockets. At one point he worked three jobs in college to support himself, such as being an ice-cream man, a tutor, and a busboy. My mom has worked so many different jobs I’m sure I’ll miss a few. She was a pharmacy technician, a language teacher, an engineer, and a store manager. The thing I appreciate most though was she always made time to take me and my sister to activities we did outside of school whether it was swimming lessons, or music lessons. My older sister, Mymy, is currently a third year medical student at the Boston University School of Medicine. She’s on her way to being a great physician someday and without her I wouldn’t be who I am, nor would I be where I am today without having her as a role model.

What do you hope to do after med school?

I hope to go into family medicine and be a great physician towards all my patients. I hope to expand my care and specialize in community outreach. There’s so much work to be done in preventative care and how we approach it in America. I’m excited to dive deep into creating new methods of community engagement. Methods that work, and build great relationships between clinicians and its patient population. Aside from my career goals as a physician, I hope to train martial arts like Muay Thai in Thailand for fun, and even Brazillian Jiu Jitsu. Maybe, I’ll run a marathon someday. I’ll do some meditation retreats across the world because also why not. I don’t know really, but I do know for sure, I want to keep living a balanced lifestyle and enjoy the time I have here with my future family and all.



Urban Bioethics @ Temple

Committed to defining and addressing the ethical challenges of urban health care, public health status, and policy.@CBUHP