With very shaky beginnings as a malnourished infant in his native Vietnam, Nam Pham, one of this year’s Minority Nurse Scholarship winners, describes his challenge-filled life as an ultra-marathon.

Despite the different professional, personal, and academic setbacks that resulted from his earliest years, Pham says his outlook puts it all into perspective. As he pursues his master of science degree in nursing at the UCLA School of Nursing, he plans to use his dual roles as a health care provider and a health care consumer to become an integral part of building what he calls a working health care infrastructure. And with a focus on teamwork and collaboration, he believes the profession benefits from a diverse nursing force.

Always maintaining a steady pace and keeping my eye on the finish line, I am determined to jump over any and all hurdles to pursue a meaningful medical career and live a meaningful life,” he wrote on his scholarship application.

Pham’s family left Vietnam, but their new life in the drug-riddled Oakland, California, projects presented new challenges. But through it all, Pham says he didn’t back down from choosing a notoriously demanding career.

Success may take weeks,” he says. “It may take months. Maybe years. I don’t expect the nursing profession to be an easy one.” But with his own experience with health struggles to call on, the direct connection to patients, some of whom will face seemingly insurmountable odds, will be there.

Many patients will have year-long health care journeys,” he says, but he notes that he wants to be an encouraging and compassionate support. And just like he has seen in his own life, the road to good health is made up of both success and failures—neither of which define the whole path. So when patients are overwhelmed, he can bring it back to what counts. “We’d take it one step at a time, day-by-day,” he says.

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To reflect on his comparison to life as an ultra-marathon, Pham put his beliefs into real action running 700 kilometers across Canada from Quebec to Ottawa connecting with people about AIDS and HIV issues. The run’s physical challenges were tough, but with a love of both talking and listening, it was an opportunity to connect in a way he hasn’t done before.

And after listening to the struggles of many patients, Pham says he knows how complex a nurse’s role is. “A good nurse will be able to bridge any gap between a physician and a patient, providing not only medical but also emotional support,” he says. “Reducing the gap will not always be easy and that is why a good nurse will always listen with an open ear, interpreting and analyzing the situation before speaking and integrating a plan for the betterment of the patient and/or physician.”

When asked where he might see himself in five years, with his degree complete, Pham is clear. “I will be operating a mobile health clinic on wheels in underserved communities, providing primary care to the forgotten and neglected,” he says. “It is my hope and dream to give back to the communities that provided me with life’s most basic necessities when I first came to the United States.”

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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