Steven Nguyen wants to change the practice of family medicine.
The Richmond resident, who is graduating from the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, plans to go into a medical practice in an underserved area where he can care for patients in a more holistic way.
“I believe in medicine that takes into account the whole person, their family and their community,” he said. “This approach addresses the sociocultural and economic determinants of health that play a greater role in determining health outcomes better than anything we can do in the hospital. Family medicine is the specialty that champions community medicine and context.
“I also love the breadth and diversity of patients. Having the opportunity to take care of babies all the way through geriatric patients is wonderful.”
After graduation, Nguyen will move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he will have a three-year residency in family medicine in a diverse community. He said practicing family medicine gives him “a better idea of the community and who they are and what they stand for.”
Medical school was not Nguyen’s first time in Charlottesville. He graduated from UVA in 2011 with bachelor’s degrees in biology and anthropology, then took a job with AmeriCorps as a healthy eating and exercise consultant in schools in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas. He said he was able to build a sustainable system that continued after he left.
His real-world experience working with local populations in Texas and his education have taught him the value of looking at the individual in the context of the community, he said. “As an anthropology major, I learned how to better understand different cultures.”
After the stint in Texas, Nguyen returned to UVA’s School of Medicine because of its General Scholars Program, which allowed him to focus on a holistic approach to being a primary care physician.
“It is very exciting because this is how to educate the physician of the future,” he said. “It focuses on looking at the whole picture of the patient.”
Nguyen joins a budding movement in modern medicine that stresses that doctors should treat the whole person, not just illnesses and conditions. He pointed out that medical providers need to work as a team in their approach to the patient, because the doctor is not the only one who knows the patient.
“The nurse, the pharmacist, the medical technician – all have a different perspective on the patient,” he said “If everyone is working together at a high level, we can all provide a high level of care.
“In medicine there are a lot of issues that stem from behavior and access,” he said. “A lot of people are unhealthy because they do not have general knowledge of eating a balanced diet and do not have the resources to do it.”
After his residency, Nguyen wants to work as a family medicine physician before pursuing another degree, such as an MBA, and working in community health or large-population health. Eventually he wants to work in a clinical setting about 40 percent of the time, and do community outreach the rest of the time.
He plans to be an advocate for the underserved, which he said does not limit him geographically. “There are underserved communities everywhere, in rural areas and in the inner city,” he said.
“I think it would be more efficient if we prevent chronic diseases instead of treating them and their repercussions,” he said. “I want to think of patients in the context of their families and communities.”
While at UVA, Nguyen was a Center for Global Health University Scholar and a John Edward Jones Memorial Scholar. He is a member of the Medical Student Advocacy Committee and the School of Medicine Steering Committee on Women. He was co-leader of the Virginia Wellness Initiative, a medical student group that provides health screenings and takes part in general wellness events; service chair of Sobremesa Community Service, a student-led medical Spanish program; co-leader of the Family Medicine Interest Group; and a participant in the UVA-Guatemala Initiative, visiting the country and helping start the Global Health at Home Initiative in Charlottesville.
A graduate of Douglas Freeman High School, he has performed volunteer work at the Albemarle/Charlottesville Regional Jail and the Charlottesville Free Clinic.
“The education provided at UVA means that I will have a future career full of opportunities to affect change for individual patients and hopefully for a community and population,” he said. “At UVA, I had opportunities to pursue my passion and develop life-long skills for continual learning and personal development.”
Nguyen acknowledges that it will be difficult to shift modern medical culture, but he thinks it is possible.
“My skill sets will help me shape a new vision because I have learned to persevere and collaborate with others,” he said. “I understand that change is gradual, and I understand it will be hard, but I want to dedicate my life to change.”