Simon Scholarship gives PA students a boost
Both Tiffany Bui and Don Nguyen watched their hardworking parents sacrifice for them growing up and often pitched in to help them. When they become Physician Assistants in December, they want to pay it forward.
Bui and Nguyen are both seniors in Chapman University Simon Scholars Medical Assistant (PA), which covers their tuition through a $9 million gift from the Simon Family Foundation.
The program is a way for Chapman to meet the great need for healthcare providers in Southern California. According to the California Health Care Foundation, 12% of the population of Orange County and nearly a third of the state live in areas with a shortage of primary care providers.
“The Simon Scholars PA Scholarship Program provides students from disadvantaged backgrounds with an excellent opportunity to participate in our PA program,” said Michael Burney, Ed.D., chair of the Physician Assistant Studies program. “They receive financial assistance, educational guidance and mentoring, which prepares them to become caring and competent medical assistants. I am very grateful to the Simon Family Foundation for their sponsorship of our Simon Scholars.
“A huge blessing in my life”
The scholarship program gives students who wish to obtain their Masters in Medical Sciences through the PA program the opportunity to graduate in two years with little or no debt.
“The Simon Scholars program has been such a great blessing in my life,” says Nguyen. “I can concentrate on school. Being in PA school is a challenge so not having to worry about loans is a huge burden for me and my parents as well.
Bui says the program has given her a support system of fellow Simon Scholars and program coordinators at Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences — especially during the pandemic.
“Even though the class is 50 people, I came in after meeting these other nine amazing people who were also part of the Simon Scholars program. We really leaned on each other to get through the first year, which is demanding,” says Bui.
As PA Simon Scholars, he and Bui gained plenty of hands-on experience in five-week clinical rotations. She leans to specialize in pediatrics, he in surgery.
“I learned to interact with patients in a way that they can talk and be listened to, and I spend time with them,” Bui says. “It may be the only time in the whole year that they come to see a doctor.”
Nguyen says he enjoys both helping surgeons and seeing patients in clinical settings.
“I’m not just at the clinic all day; I like the change of scenery,” he confides.
His and Bui’s parents immigrated from Vietnam before they were born. Bui’s parents didn’t have time for English lessons because they were working and caring for her and her sister, so she ran errands and made appointments with them to translate.
“When they went to the grocery store, went to the doctor and the dentist, in more specific circumstances, they had a hard time,” she says. “When I was a kid, I did my best to help them understand…even at my own parent-teacher conference, I had to do my best to understand.”
Nguyen, who was bullied in high school and grew up in an area of gang activity, started a side business repairing iPhones and computers to help his family get by. His father worked long hours as a landscaper so Nguyen and his three brothers could go to college, and his mother helped the boys with their homework.
“The only thing our parents wanted us to do was focus on school,” he says.
He says that no matter how difficult the PA program gets, “it’s not as exhausting as the job my dad did for all those years.”
His and Bui’s background has a bearing on why they decided to work in healthcare and how they approach their patients.
Nguyen was hit by a PA who worked with his uncle after he suffered a stroke.
“The way the PA treated him and his family and the education they provided was a turning point for me because you can really inspire people, change lives and directly affect the community. through the care you provide to patients,” he says. “The AP made us feel comfortable and at ease. This experience and a few other experiences with healthcare made me prefer healthcare to the world of technology.
“Once I finish my training, I want to be like this PA,” he says.
Bui says translating for her parents growing up played a big part in why she wanted to become a childminder.
“Even speaking the same language, when a physician assistant speaks in medical jargon, the patient doesn’t understand,” she says. “I would like my mother to understand what is happening because it is her health and her life. As a PA, I can play a direct role in ensuring that my patients understand what is happening with their health; I always make it a priority to explain things to a patient in a way they can understand.
Both Bui and Nguyen plan to give back when they start training.
Once she has a few years under her belt, Bui hopes to take PA students under her wing like others have for her. She would like to work with low income populations.
Nguyen says that because he won’t have student loan debt, it will be easier for him to do voluntary medical work in countries like Vietnam, where he has family. He would also like to work with doctors and other PAs to help local veterans.