NHC Alumni Spotlight: Meet Antony Nguyen!
National Health Corps is a program that has provided an opportunity for future health leaders to learn and grow while providing essential services to marginalized, under-resourced communities in each program's geographic areas. Having been founded in 1994, National Health Corps has an extensive network of alumni that have completed the program and are now supporting health care implementation in different parts of the country. Our Alumni Spotlight campaign is meant to showcase what our alumni have done and are doing since completing the NHC Program!
Introducing the third entry in our Alumni Spotlight series, Antony Nguyen served with NHC San Francisco during the 2020-2021 Service Term. At the time, Antony served as the COVID-19 Responder/Wellness Screening Coordinator with the San Francisco Department of Public Health - Population Health Management division.
Antony joined Program Coordinator Alan Arroyo-Chavez to discuss his experience with NHC and where that experience has taken him, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, events with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Chelsea Clinton, and most recently, a fellowship with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Read the full interview below to learn a little bit more about Antony, his service, and his public health journey so far! Thank you, Antony, for sharing your experience with us, past, current, and future members!
Alan: Hi Antony! Before we get started, so I guess the purpose of these interviews that we're doing is to kind of highlight how the NHC experience may have affected or impacted the track that you wanted to go after or go down after you finish your service term, I mean, just in your cohort alone, so many people ended up either going directly to Medical school, Public Health. Some people went straight into work afterwards, too, so it's just such a variety. We want to show candidates and incoming members the different paths that people can take after the program, and have taken in the past, too, not to mention just highlighting, like all the successes that all of y'all have had in your careers, and kind of where you're going or what you're trying to do next. So I guess my first question for you, and let's see if you remember it exactly, word for word. What role did you hold while you were in NHC member? And what Host Site were you placed at?
Antony: Okay, so here's the thing on the website. It said, like Prevention or so, I'm sorry, like, I think, Wellness Screening Coordinator like, hey, on the actual SFDPH onboarding document, it was Prevention and Wellness Screening Coordinator, and the reason why I say this is just because, like you know, I will look at the resume. I will look at the Linkedin, like I said before, right? And I need to know, like what the tiles are. So yeah, of course. I still remember, you know, like. I'm very much so on top of my professional background!
Alan: Yes you are!
Antony: And I was a COVID-19 Responder, can't forget that part! That was 50% of what we were doing, like damn!
Alan: That was more than 50% at some point. Yeah, like, it's, it's ridiculous how much stuff has changed. Because now I think it's just 2 people that are COVID-19 responders versus in your era, everyone was. And then some!
Alan: So yeah, no, things are very different. Right now. We have 2 people that are COVID-19 Responders with, or actually no, let me backtrack, 1 person who has it in their title, and 2 people that support that other person and initiatives at DPH, so there's only 3 people that are really doing that nowadays. So yeah.
Antony: I was going to ask, is it still “COVID-19 Responder” plus another role? Or is that COVID-19 Responder for that particular person?
Alan: Oh, no, it's COVID-19 responder plus another thing, and it's primarily the other thing that takes priority now so completely different – it’s what it was supposed to be with you all, because at the time we had such a huge surge of everything, and not everyone was vaccinated - or no one was vaccinated before January, February. So I guess in your time it was definitely a majority of people [that] were doing more than 50, more like 80% of their role was dedicated to COVID-19 Response. But now, because things are so different, and even Federal regulations are so different in terms of funding, reimbursements and health insurance, and all that other stuff, the services are smaller. So I think DPH has gravitated away from just the specific amount of response that you all were providing in your time to focusing on the fallout of what was happening and getting people back into care primarily, with the occasional - they're not called Case Investigation/Contact Tracing shifts anymore - but they still exist to some degree. Yeah. so definitely different.
And then, I guess, as we're kind of going down memory lane, what skills did you learn or expand while you were serving at NHC? Granted it wasn't too long ago, but it also wasn't yesterday. So I'm curious to kind of see, thinking back to 3 years ago!
Antony: Great, I really think, though, that it was, I think it was for sure, one of the most patient-facing experiences that I kind of would describe, having, you know, piggybacking off of our conversation in terms of serving, doing COVID-19 response. I did have some experiences [beforehand] like, talking to and navigating patients. And having conversations with them, and employing those motivational interviewing skills, etc. But the context was very different - in those contexts. It was just kind of like, "Hey, here's a resource," and I was doing patient navigation in the past. I was doing a position, and we're just talking about what's going on their lives. [They would] come in and we [would let them know that], "Hey, I'm here. [If] you want any resources, let me know", and then you chat with them. And you know it [was] an optional thing with the patient, and [the patient would respond], "Oh, I'm good," "Alright. See ya!"
With COVID-19 response, though, I remember it being a bit more heavy-hearted. Because you're coming in and delivering this bad news, and also kind of being prepared to emotionally help them through that on the phone, too, without having that face-to-face interaction where you can kind of actually read some emotion, etc. Things like that. So, [I was] really building on the skills of interacting and talking through things with people. Also, there's the Motivational Interviewing skills in terms of trying to figure out what people need. So, I think that was a really big thing that I think I learned and built more off of during my experience with NHC. To sum it up, I would say, kind of really building on having difficult conversations with people that I don't know, you know and learning to emotionally connect with them through that. Yeah.
Alan: Absolutely. We just covered Motivational Interviewing with the new members, too, and that was something that they really carried out of that [session], and I'm glad to hear you say it, and how it applied to your [NHC] term, because it is extremely challenging to read people through the phone. It's challenging to read them through Facetime, and even then, you still have some queues, and I'm glad to see that that expanded for you. To follow up on that, how have you applied MI skills that you learned in NHC through grad school or in your new role with the CDC?
Antony: So, I would kind of say, unfortunately, my thing is that I have kind of fallen off the grid in terms of more face-to-face interactions, more community-based interactions during my time in grad school. I would say the closest time, though, in terms of using that [skill] would be within the classroom. So, for instance, I was a TA - I worked with a lot of students, I worked with undergrads, I worked with grad students, etc. So, I'm meeting with them in office hours, and some students are struggling [while others] are not struggling, but the ones who are struggling, are coming to me. So, I am sitting there listening to whatever's going on and talking and trying to figure out what issues they have and trying to navigate that as well in the most sensitive way possible while also trying to get something fruitful out of the session with them, for them. [I hope] they get out of meeting with me, you know, feeling more relieved and rejuvenated to be able to get back and like, do their work effectively, and knowing that they have a support system within the class, and that's one example.
I was also co-president for a student organization based on just the idea of creating a safe space for New York to be more trauma free, especially amongst youth, and we had an MI training. Because I had that [NHC] experience before going into that training, [it] was not exactly something difficult. I was able to jump in and help people within the room as well during the workshop that we were running.
Unfortunately, I have to say that [the skills] I got from my experience didn't get to carry over as much as I wanted to, but I did the best I could in the context that I was actually in.
Alan: Yeah, for sure. I think that's something that other members are seeing, or other alumni, I should say, are seeing now, too, as they kind of move into the space that you were in just recently. A lot of them ended up going to school or others are still kind of in flux and figuring out how to get to med school or public health school, etc., and they're realizing that even if it's not patient-facing, a lot of the MI skills apply to conflict resolution, and that is something that is extremely transferable, and it seems like you did very well! And then I guess another thing to inquire about is this new role that you're taking. You just told me a little bit about it before, but could you share a little bit about what you do and what you're trying to do?
Antony Nguyen: Yeah, so I really started this about... This is my third week! So, it's still relatively new to me, right? Obviously, you kind of jump into everything, and then you're still like trying to adjust and figure out what exactly you're doing. But I will say that, at least based on my own observation, so far it is a bit more on the research-heavy side of things. I am part of the Research and Evaluation branch for the Center for Disease Control's Injury Center, or the National Center for Injury, Prevention and Control, I believe. A lot of my projects really focus on online-facilitated interpersonal violence. So that's really going through the literature and looking at what is out there in terms of cyber bullying, sexual violence on dating apps, sexual coercion, sexting - that type of stuff, right? And looking at different ways how that's being measured as well within the literature.
There's a communication piece that I'm supposed to be working on, or I guess I'll find out tomorrow in terms of what I'll be doing in terms of that, so far it has just been going through the literature and understanding the space. Granted, my first 2 weeks was having 14 1-on-1's online to meet the team, so... so here’s to say that not a lot of work has been done so far! In general, I'm still trying to learn what else I'll be doing. It just seems like, so far, it's very literature-forward, very research-forward, which has a few pros and cons right. I enjoy researching, but what I still miss, though, that I haven't gotten since being in like NHC, in AmeriCorps, was working with patients and talking to patients, and that's something that I really miss. And I'm trying to see if, you know, over time as I get adjusted to my schedule, then maybe I might find a free clinic nearby, or something that I could go volunteer at, you know, and start working with patients again. But that is a little bit about the stuff that I'm working on at the CDC.
It is also a fellowship, so I do have a cohort. I and one other individual are on the interpersonal violence track, [and] there's other tracks, such as health equity track, health communications track, etc. I've met my cohort once at the CDC campus for like 4 days, and we went our separate ways, and you know, our projects do not coincide with each other, so we're all just doing individual projects, which is kind of unfortunate, because I really did like the camaraderie when I was within the SFDPH and having that huge team and everything like that, and I remember near the tail end we would actually get together on [Microsoft] Teams every once in a while, just us, and just sit and talk. We would just like map out 1 hour in our day, and we would just sit and talk about like what's going on in our day, or we have something that we wanted to vent about, and I miss that camaraderie honestly, and I think remote work, it can be more challenging to find that right, especially when you just jump into like a new team. So yeah.
Alan: For sure, for sure. And I guess out of curiosity, do you think that - and I'm trying to remember if you were on Corps Support [Committee] at the time... I don't remember exactly - but have you tried or thought about trying to do that with your new cohort? Or carrying some of those activities that y'all did at the time? I remember Saba scheduled stuff like coffee chats with everyone else. We remember those very fondly. But yeah, I'm curious if you ever thought about being like, "Hey, like, let's set a time!" or something!
Antony: Well, yes, but someone did beat me to it. They ended up doing what we call a "Happy Hour" hahaha, but basically Wednesday evenings, they'll have a Zoom session for an hour and a half, 2 hours or so. And they would just hop on and chat, etc. I missed last week's because I was cooking a dinner party - yes, that's my new thing. Now I cook dinner parties, and I write little menus!
Alan: I love that.
Antony: So yeah, I ended up missing that. But I think people are making some strides to kind of get us together a little bit, but other than that, we also have not thought of other ideas. I'm glad you bring back coffee chats, though, I enjoyed that! It was hit or miss sometimes - you kind of come in to meet someone and it's like a little awkward, and sometimes you just click with someone, and you just fire off. I appreciated Saba a lot for putting out those efforts. Yeah.
Alan: For sure, and I'm also curious to know how long is the fellowship for? Is it a 2-year fellowship? Is it a year-long fellowship?
Antony: Yeah. So it's a one year fellowship! We can extend it to 2 years if we want to. I am uncertain if I want to extend to 2 years, I mean, it's only been 3 weeks, so...
Antony: Actually, I'm studying for the MCAT, hoping to apply to medical school this upcoming May, and I also applied to Fulbright, too, just for the hell of it. So, we'll see how that pans out. So, I'm basically trying to set up different options after this first year ends and we'll see how it goes. But yeah, right now, just a year.
Alan: Fulbright is an amazing experience. I'm curious to know what branch - research or English teaching and what country did you apply for?
Antony: English teaching! I'm pretty sure that ever since I graduated from college, every single year I have spent having some type of teaching experience. Even during NHC I was still on zoom after hours tutoring youth who used to experience homelessness. And then, the year before NHC, I was teaching first graders in Oakland, and before that, I was still doing tutoring stuff, and back at Berkeley, I was a TA for Organic Chemistry lab, and then, you know, in graduate school I was TA'ing every year as well. I just enjoy teaching. As much as I enjoy research, I know that those are more competitive to get, so I figured that, you know, if I also enjoy teaching, I might as well do teaching, and of course, I applied to Vietnam, because I'm coming in with some language skills, so it's helpful to navigate it, and being a child of Vietnamese refugees who grew up in Georgia, like Savannah, Georgia, at the time I just didn't get a lot of exposure to my own culture as much as I wanted to, and I think ever since I left home, since I left Georgia, I've always been wanting more and more of it, and finding ways to independently explore that. So I think Vietnam just made sense for me as an option. Yeah.
Alan: Well, I hope that comes through, I know that the interviews probably start in January, or something of the sort.
Antony: Yes, I think they let you know if you're a semifinalist or not in January, and then, I think interviews run until February. I think April is when you find out if you're you've you're offered.
Alan: Yeah, April is around the time that people find out - it's a fairly quick turnaround, and I hope it turns out well, though, because that sounds like a really great experience, too. And I guess you already answered this question about what you hope to do next, but I guess my other question for you is, aside from anything professional, what else do you hope to do in the next couple of years or year?
Antony: Hell, that's honestly a good question Alan.
Alan: I agree.
Antony: Not to get too personal, right? But I was, I walked into my classroom second semester at Columbia, saw a pretty girl in my group, and it's a weird thing to say, but then I really started to reflect more on what else just makes me happy in life. And I feel like over the past couple of years I've been so sucked into my career and my professional space as something that makes me happy, that I had kind of been ignoring everything else, whether it's hobbies, whether it's love life, whether it's family, social circles of friends.
My first year at Columbia, I told myself, "I will make a couple of friends, but I'm just going to stick to my books." Granted, that didn't pan out because New York City really knows how to get stuck to you and suck you in, and there's PLENTY of temptation around here, you know. But after that moment, I remember thinking more and more about, you know, other things I want to do with my life rather than just professional. And I think I'm still kind of pondering it a little bit. I'm still trying to figure out things that I want to do on the side rather than just, you know, studying for the MCAT, just doing CDC, or just doing research, blah blah blah!
So, I just don't have an answer for you because I'm still trying to figure that out. You know what I mean like, it's just been a lot more introspection the last year and a half or so in terms of what I want and trying to find balance between focusing so hard on my career and trying to focus on other things as well, you know.
Alan: I hear that, I hear that. It's always a challenge to kind of figure that out. Once you've been in the groove for so long of finding joy in careers and professional spaces, and all this other stuff, too, it becomes a homework assignment essentially for someone to kind of undo, or not necessarily undo, but more so to learn a different aspect or side of themselves and see what really makes them tick outside of [the professional] sphere, too. So, I guess that takes me to the last question that I have for you here - in one sentence, what advice would you give to new and incoming members, after having shared everything that you shared with me so far?
Antony: Man, one sentence? I'm mouthy, I'm mouthy, Alan! It goes back to - I think of the NHC blog post that I wrote. It goes back to that, I think. And I still stand super firmly, in almost any application that I write to anything else that I have applied to, even the Fulbright, is that I always talk about storytelling and narratives.
I hope that when people go through a program like NHC, or any other thing, anything else that they do, professionally or whatever, that they really take a step back and listen to the people who are in front of them, people who are around them, and really learn to carry those stories in their hearts and on their sleeves, because those things, and really reflecting on those stories, too, can really shape who you are as a person and your beliefs. And that in itself is so motivating in terms of what you want to do with your life. I really don't want people to just go through the program as a check box for their resume or for an application, etc. I really want them to be able to be in the moment and be present, especially if they're working with patients. If they're working with community members [then I hope] that they're really sitting and listening to them, you know, and not be too scared to just ask [community members] a little bit about themselves and where they're from and really build those connections.
I still, for good or bad, I still remember some of those COVID-19 phone calls. I still do. Whether it's the tone of the voice, the concern or maybe even they're just like, "Oh, okay, that's cool, that's fine," you know, you really see how different people take things in stride. And you see how people do feel vulnerable in certain moments. And some people are super happy to share about themselves for some reason, and you just have got to embrace it. I remember calling a patient about their test for colorectal cancer screening, and, or no, it may have been COVID that I called them for, I forgot which one it was, but they started talking about their birthday. They were talking about how their birthday [was] coming up, and everything like that. I had another call about a breast cancer screening [where] I tried to schedule another patient in, and they asked me about my day, you know, I told them that I had a lot of calls to make, and they told me, "don't forget to stop and smell the roses, I have a nice rose bush outside my home that I like to see every day." But I don't know, I think just taking the time and really listening to people and soaking it in and embracing their stories can make your experience so much more worthwhile. So yeah.
Alan: For sure, thank you so much for sharing that, Antony, that's great to hear, and I love hearing that, too! I think a lot of the time folks really focus on what they're only supposed to do, but really, just going beyond and connecting with the community is at times, if not all the time, the most important thing anyone can do in this program or any work that they're doing. Well, thank you again so much for your time. Thank you so much, Antony!
Antony: Thank you for chatting with me!