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Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen, who took office last month, plans to establish relationships with underrepresented groups on campus during his tenure.
Nguyen is the first person of color to lead HUHS and took office Nov. 18. He previously served as the director of Student Health Services at the University of Pennsylvania.
Nguyen has studied and worked with minority populations including people of color, immigrants, and people who identify as BGLTQ. Prior to directing Student Health Services, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor.
At Harvard, Nguyen said he wants to connect with the University’s campus, just as he has done in the past at the University of Pennsylvania.
“My first goal is simply to learn who everyone is,” Nguyen said. “My community now is this campus. I need to learn who the stakeholders are across the campus.”
“I spent a lot of time just going out there and trying to give back to communities going to free clinics, giving free vaccinations, going to health fairs, teaching communities about how to stay healthy in their own language,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said he developed an interest in health equity based on his experiences as a refugee from South Vietnam who arrived in America during the Vietnam War. He said he saw the impact of health disparities on minority populations as well as on his own family, helping him to recognize challenges to language access as well as discrimination in health care.
“I think that work over time gave me a lot of insight and experience that helped me in my future work — particularly as medical director,” Nguyen said. “I've been very interested in health equity for a long time.”
Nguyen said he believes it is particularly important for medical researchers to forge lasting relationships with minority populations in order to understand their experiences.
“Doing that I think has helped me to recognize how important it is, for those of us in medicine, to step out of our ivory towers of our hospitals and our clinics and connect with communities that we serve so we can understand their lives,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said the perspective he gained from working first-hand with the underserved will guide his leadership at HUHS. For example, he wants to improve the reach of the HUHS biannual health survey, which will be released in the spring of 2020.
“I want to make sure that students from minority populations and from different backgrounds, sexual minorities, and so on are participating at high levels so that we can understand their unique perspectives as well,” Nguyen said.
— Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.
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