The Journey to Nursing, Medicine…and Telemedicine

My upbringing 

I grew up in a Vietnamese refugee community in midtown Tucson. Throughout grade school, I eagerly watched as families slowly made their way out of the complex as if it were a graduation to the next social rung. After a decade of factory work, often managing three jobs, my mother saved enough for our little family to graduate, too. The dedication and perseverance I witnessed in her inspired me to become the first in my family to graduate from college.

While navigating the demands of college, I was faced with my father’s declining health and spent many months beside him in the hospital as our family’s liaison. Eventually, his condition resulted in renal failure and dialysis at age 45. I was present for his surgeries and observed the meticulous care from his nurses and physicians. Memories of this experience and success in my science courses initiated my interest in healthcare and led me to pursue nursing.

I would not have predicted that my experiences in nursing would reveal my deeper aspirations and lead me on a meandering path towards medicine. I enjoyed many aspects of being a nurse including listening to the intimate stories patients share, comforting their families, and being their advocate. Some years into my career, I began yearning to expand my role and decided to apply to medical school.

My start with the CUP clinics 

In 2020, I entered medical school at the University of Arizona and was drawn to the CUP Clinics program. CUP stands for Commitment to Underserved People and there are over 20 different clinic programs ranging from women’s health to refugee health. These programs have been around for many years and I wished my family and community had known about it because navigating the healthcare system was difficult for us and a CUP clinic may have been able to make a difference for the health of my father. 

I accepted a position as the Lead Clinic Coordinator for the Shubitz Family Clinic. Shubitz is a clinic that provides free primary care to the uninsured. It built my confidence in leading a motivated, smart and hard-working team. It also allowed me to connect to the Tucson community that is underserved. Since starting this role, I have updated the entire Shubitz Clinic operations manual, initiated shadowing opportunities for pre-medical students and Spanish-translators via our telemedicine clinic, and initiated simultaneous in-person and telemedicine clinics so that we are able to see more patients.

Learning how to provide telemedicine 

When the pandemic started, my emeritus team had the momentous task of starting a telemedicine program from scratch so that they could continue providing healthcare to our regular patients without putting anyone at risk of spreading COVID. When I took over, I had never run a clinic or knew how telemedicine worked. In my role, I learned how to create a telemedicine clinic through a HIPPA-approved Zoom platform. I created detailed instructions for future clinical leaders to use when creating a telemedicine clinic and created an opportunity for our Spanish-learners to shadow during telemedicine visits with Spanish-speaking patients. 

After weeks of conducting strictly telemedicine clinics, we transitioned to a hybrid-model and held telemedicine appointments during regular Shubitz clinic hours. This worked well for patients who had a far commute, for those with simple follow-ups, or for those with COVID symptoms to be able to see a provider. Having a telemedicine option truly made a difference for the CUP clinic patients and enriched the medical education and experiences for our students. I am now able to continue my career in medicine with the knowledge and experience of running a clinic both in-person and online.

About the Author

Lily Nguyen's picture

Lily Nguyen is medical student at the University of Arizona and former registered nurse. She completed her nursing degree at Northern Arizona University before caring for patients with acute and chronic heart disease. During her nursing career, she volunteered abroad in Peru, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic to help provide healthcare to the underserved populations. She currently serves as the emeritus clinic leader for Shubitz Family CUP Clinic. She is an avid trail runner, plant-based cook and dog lover. 


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