When asked how she got into medicine, Dr. Kim Chi Nguyen pauses momentarily.
There simply isn’t a quick way to answer the question.
Nguyen joined the staff of primary care providers at Carson Valley Medical Center in November following a 20-year stay on Maui.She will practice out of Ironwood Primary Care in Minden.
It’s the latest step in a path that has taken her all around the globe.
In April of 1975, North Vietnamese troops had encircled South Vietnamese capital city Saigon.
All passageways out were blocked and the airport had come under heavy artillery fire before the city ultimately fell on April 30.
South Vietnamese wishing to flee before the city fell into the hands of the North found themselves with exit options dwindling at a rate only surpassed by the rise in associated costs.
A church in Michigan sponsored the exit of Nguyen family.
“We were boat people,” she says. “We came over, we didn’t know a lick of English. I was seven years old when we came from Vietnam. We went to a school that was specifically for refugees for maybe six months, just to learn English.”
Nguyen’s father, a general practitioner, and mother left behind a maternity hospital they’d opened together.
“He delivered pretty much half of the babies in Saigon at the time,” Nguyen said.
“With the fall of Saigon, they left everything behind to make a new start in America.”
When they arrived, though, her father struggled to continue his career in medicine.
“He had a really difficult time getting a license here,” she said. “Think about trying to make the transition in medicine, let alone while learning English. It was quite a journey.
“He finally got there, though — became general practitioner who did mostly OB/GYN. For me, I always wanted to be my father’s daughter and I always wanted to show I could do anything the boys could do. That’s how I ended up on this path.”
Nguyen remained in Michigan through college — getting her bachelor’s from the University of Michigan and attending medical school at Wayne State University in Detroit.
She’d had enough of the excessively hard winters by the time she finished, though, and made the move to Hawaii 20 years ago.
“I was doing nursing home care there most recently,” she said. “We did a lot of geriatric care and also worked with the severely developmentally disabled.”
Prior to that, she’d been in outpatient medicine.
Nguyen and her husband began discussing moving back to the main land last year after her mother died.
“It was time for a change,” she said. “We started thinking about trying to move closer to family. I have a brother in New Mexico and a brother in California, so we were looking for somewhere in this basic region.”
“I put my resume in with Carson Valley Medical Center and the next thing I knew, here we are. So far we love it.”
Nguyen said her approach with patients is simply to remain unassuming.
“I’m someone who is easier to talk to, hopefully not as intimidating,” she said. “I want to know people’s goals for their health and offer my recommendations on how they can get there.”
“I view the doctor-patient relationship as more of a collaboration, not just ‘Here, do this because I say so.'”
Nguyen said she has quickly grown fond of the Carson Valley community.
“Hawaii is the Aloha state, but since we have been here I’ve found the people even more welcoming and nicer than what I knew there. I’m looking forward to being part of the community.”
Nguyen is practicing at Ironwood Primary Care in Minden (897 Ironwood Drive). Call 775-782-1610 for more information or to schedule an appointment.