Dr. Truong works at UMass Memorial Hospital as an Emergency Room pharmacist. She has always been known to serve both her hospital and community with impressive and courageous loyalty. During the COVID19 pandemic, she not only maintained her role caring for patients in the hospital with COVID19 but also did outreach to her Vietnamese community to further help support the hospitals with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as well as equip her community with knowledge, to battle false news and allay fears and anxieties.
WHY I DO WHAT I DO
Dr. Truong has the story of many hard-working Vietnamese immigrants. No money, no support, just bright-eyed and motivated to make a difference in the world. What makes her story unique is how her path was forged through the courage to come to a new country, learn a new language and study night and day – and then, her grace in allowing personal calamities to re-shape that path.
“I came to America in 2002 and I didn’t have any money or English. I went through college and I got accepted to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) – it was not easy. During my last rotation, my dad was dying so I had to fly back to Vietnam emergently to take care of him. I was very frustrated because I didn’t know any clinical or direct patient care (at the time), to take care of my own dad. When I came back to America, I decided to work in the hospital setting because I don’t want to just look at my people dying without being able to do anything to help. My dad is the reason that I started working in the hospital.”
“I have another reason for being a clinical pharmacist - when I came back to America, people told my dad to not take medications, don’t eat, don’t take insulin – only eat brown rice – and that would help cure his cancer, on top of his diabetes, heart and kidney failure. A couple later, he died…It happens a lot, for my people. So I’m motivated to work on updating people on herbal medicines, because I’ve experienced that loss. Knowledge is power. I hope I can be a bridge to close that gap for my community.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Dr. Truong has spent years of her life educating herself, on how to think, how to care for patients, and how to help patients and her community care for themselves.
“Back in January 2020, the very first week of the outbreak in Wuhan, China – I was in Vietnam for my Family Medicine Global Outreach trip. It was too early at that time to know what was going on, but I was already working on how to update and educate my Vietnamese community because there’s so much fake news and wrong information that’s posted in the media, and it impacts people a lot.”
“During this unknown time, knowledge is the only thing we have. In the Vietnamese community, we don’t have a lot of tools, or the same healthcare as in America. So there’s a lot that happens there that doesn’t actually help people but can rather make a bad impact on the people in terms of the public health. I try to answer questions for my friends and family and my community.”
“Language barrier is also a big problem. I’ve always believed that language shouldn’t be a barrier for people to get the best care.”
THE POWER OF MEDIA
Dr. Truong uses a number of different social media outlets in order to reach out to her Vietnamese community. Through her years of dedication to the community, she has gained a voice that is both compassionate and empowering.
“I use media – like Facebook – which is a powerful tool if you use it right.”
“We worked with VA NGO during her Global Health outreach trip, an organization in Vietnam – so when I came back here, I trained the VA NGO youth over in Vietnam remotely because they would be the ones to come out and educate and help their own community. I also came up with the most updated COVID19-related materials and I asked one of my friends who is a reporter to make a video for me because it’s very, very important that people can get reliable and testified information early on. So we made that video and then VinnaMedia in Boston called asked me to do more updates and education on COVID19. I said yes, because I had always wanted to have a health channel for Vietnamese people anyway.”
ADVOCATING FOR PPE
In addition to being an educator and a friend to the Vietnamese community, Dr. Truong also had a strong voice in advocating for the provision of personal protective equipment.
“There was a report from the hospital command center that we were short on PPE, and experienced it myself at work. I felt like we were at war. Healthcare providers being sent to the frontline without any weapons, and, even worse, without proper protection.”
“I’m scared, myself – going to work everyday. I can’t imagine people having to take care of patients and on top of that they don’t have enough protection. So I called up my friend and my community leaders. Luckily, people returned my calls immediately. I said, "You know, it's now or never. Because we don’t have vaccines, we don’t have medications, we won’t have mechanical ventilation sooner or later…the only thing that we have are healthcare providers. If the healthcare provider isn’t there because they’re sick from not having enough PPE, then we don’t have a chance to get out of this. There was one member who had a whole warehouse of PPE worth over $500,000. He donated it all to UMass and Saint Vincent's."
Many Vietnamese people work in nail salons, or own nail salons. While their shops closed during the COVID pandemic, the surgical masks and gloves they once used in order to provide aesthetician care to their patrons now became gifts that helped to protect our frontline workers. It was an act of altruism from the Vietnamese community as a whole – performed in the time of greatest need.
“Healthcare providers are the only things we have right now, because nothing works. Money can’t do anything. I told them (my Vietnamese community) that we only have this chance for you to step out and help us – help yourself. Because if not, we’re going to be the next New York (back then). Of course, they understand, and they want to give back also. Not only to help themselves but to also give back to the community. And we all want to give back.”
“We lucked out –they donated millions of PPEs, aerosol boxes for anesthesia/intubation, hand-made masks, and foods too, across state lines”
“If you don’t ask, the answer is always a no. I learned the lesion of never underestimate the power of humanity. There are good people, and good things that happen.”
“It was very scary at first because all we were doing was dealing with the unknown and death. This is the time that your true self comes out…when you’re dealing with something this big and unknown, it may make sense that everyone fends for themselves first. But instead, I see a lot of sacrifice, from coworkers, from nurses, from everybody because we signed up to be healthcare providers, but we didn’t sign up for COVID. Between your own life and your own family or your patients, you don’t have another choice but to take care of your patients anyway. It makes me more confident – that I picked the right profession.”
WORDS TO EVERYONE WHO SURVIVED THE PANDEMIC
“It’s not just because of COVID19 that you need to keep yourself healthy. I work in the Emergency Room, so I’ve seen people die quickly…If we are still alive, we are still very lucky. You were given that chance – be healthy, take it one day at a time.”
Hang Truong, Doctor of Pharmacy
Emergency Medicine Pharmacist at UMass Memorial
Photography: A. Giang and H. Del Rosario