In the 1970s, many Vietnamese refugees fled their war-torn country seeking safety in America. Among them were the parents of Dr. Connie Kim Yen Nguyen-Truong, 44, an assistant professor at WSU Vancouver’s College of Nursing.
Born in Portland, she was inspired by her parents to research health disparities among refugees and communities of color. Her research has not gone unnoticed: In October, Dr. Nguyen-Truong became the first person from WSU Vancouver’s College of Nursing to be recognized by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The national award recognized Nguyen-Truong for her innovative teaching, specifically her “transformative, culturally sensitive advances in teaching and learning for the benefit of nursing and other disciplines,” according to a WSU news release.
Dr. Nguyen-Truong, 44, has dedicated her professional life to furthering research and understanding about these issues; for instance, figuring out why a disproportionate amount of Micronesian Islanders don’t receive prenatal care.
“The concern is giving birth to stillborn, miscarriages and also the mental and developmental disabilities as well,” she said, adding that she also works on research to help improve screening rates for cervical and breast cancer. She has also aided a project called ScreenWise, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention effort in Oregon to reduce health inequities through education and early detection.
While she continues to teach full-time at WSU Vancouver, Nguyen-Truong is currently in the middle of a research grant buyout, with plans to return during the spring term.
The Columbian caught up with Nguyen-Truong to learn more about her and her work.
Tell me about yourself.
My parents are Vietnamese and immigrated from Vietnam during the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. And actually, it was itself a journey to Guam; they then met each other in California at a Red Cross refugee camp. Then they immigrated to the United States. I was born and raised in Portland.
How do you feel that has influenced you and your work?
I’m proud to say I’m a descendent for Vietnamese refugees. I have a lot of respect for my parents for pursuing refuge because of the trauma of war and experiencing forcible relocation from their homeland. They wanted to have an opportunity to raise a family and have educational opportunities. That continues to be important, but what was important for my parents was what it would mean to have freedom. And also what that would mean in terms of helping our communities of color, including immigrants and refugees. My father fought alongside the U.S. military and knew how important it was to have allies. To this day, I really hold on to the value they have in terms of the appreciation and what that means to be able to give back to our communities.
How do you describe your job?
I’m a nurse scientist and nurse educator and also have leadership roles in academia, as well as being a community leader. So within the college the university as well as in the communities – in particular communities of color, including immigrants and refugees.
Do you observe disparities in the work that you do, and if so, what are some examples?
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Yes, and more so when I’m having the conversations with our cultural community leaders. For example, in working with the Micronesian Islander Community organization, there are several health disparities and one that comes to mind is with prenatal care. There’s a disproportionately low number of Micronesian Islanders accessing prenatal care during the first trimester because of not even having knowledge of what prenatal care is. They’re not being told by their health care providers about the importance of prenatal care; it’s not something that exists at their home islands. The faith in God and that due to God’s will, that also can contribute. I also continue work around cancer control and early detection of cervical cancer and breast cancer. Those screening rates continue to be low — there are deep-seated beliefs about keeping the area private and even when a health care provider is recommending. They need to feel pain to then seek a provider, and at that time it’s way late in the trajectory.
What are some of your hopes and goals for the future?
After the pandemic, I would like to resume my practice because I also maintain an active medical practice in the Intermediate Care Unit. I’d like to continue with the work I’m doing in terms of building a community of equity and that journey at WSU Vancouver; tying that to building cultural community wealth and being in safe and brave spaces with one another. I’m mentioning bravery because I have twins and one of my twins was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and he’s developmentally delayed. Because of him having a delayed diagnosis, despite advocating for him, it just shows this is where there’s that gap in translation of evidence in research to practice. That is something that I continue to think about — in how I continue to be able to be a strong parent advocate with my husband; he’s a pharmacist. I want to continue to see where that direction will go. Because of the work I’m doing with the Micronesian communities and early learning, that continues to be an important contributor to preventing adverse childhood experiences. This will help me continue to understand my own personal life and what that means for other children. I mean, that’s our future generation. Neurodiversity.