Second Year PA Student Blog: Jennifer Vu

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Jennifer Vu PA-S
Jennifer Vu PA-S

A large part of my transition to living away from my family and moving to North Carolina has been figuring out what diversity means to me. As a child, I would sit beside my dad and hear him quietly say, “I would love to go home.” I did not understand this; home seemed to be America. This was where I was born and where my friends, house, and family were.

Instead of heading to the bowling alley with my friends, my weekends consisted of helping my dad gather supplies for his work as a contractor. My dad seldom sat down to rest as he struggled to support our family with a high school education. When he did, he watched documentaries about food or farming in Vietnam. Saigon had transformed into the modern metropolis where Ho Chi Minh City stands today. The war changed it in several ways -- gone was my mother’s Montessori or my father’s favorite banh canh cart. What seemed to be home was a distant memory that seemed intangible.

There was a cultural dissonance between my parents and me while I grappled with my own cultural identity

I wanted to assimilate so desperately, and that did not involve learning about a culture my parents had seemingly left behind. I wanted to eat burgers and spaghetti to imitate what I saw on television; my dinner table had fried fish with rice. Eventually, my English surpassed my Vietnamese and the dinners became quiet.

Being in a rural primary care clinic for the past 4 months has given me self-awareness of my own dissimilarities while teaching me how to address each patient’s concerns, fears, and values. Primary care is unique in the sense that you can speak on so many levels to someone, and if you really listen, you can learn more than their chief complaint. A visit to the clinic for hypertension turned into a discussion about their grief over the loss of a loved one. Their hyperglycemia became about finding a way to pay for their insulin.

Trying to see someone else’s priorities challenged me to understand my own differences. Because for a long time, I was ashamed to have an upbringing unlike many of my peers

One day, a woman entered the clinic with her two young children. She was unable to speak English and had an anxious expression on her face, as she was unable to communicate her concerns. My Vietnamese words brought some calm to her day and it brought home back to mine. I saw my family and our obstacles throughout my childhood. Her eyes had gratitude that must have matched mine because I was better able to appreciate the path I had taken in this moment.

My father showed me what true motivation could do for his family. I used that to work three simultaneous jobs to pay for my college applications, and deciphering the admissions process on my own was a trial in itself. My mother taught me splendor comes in different flavors and unexpected ways. My challenges created growth as a creative problem solver. I was finally able to claim my spot at Duke University’s Physician Assistant program fully; this was my aspiration and my individual journey to reach it.

Throughout this 4-month longitudinal rotation, I have met at least 282 people. Every single person had a journey and reason

Being a provider has helped me fully appreciate the significance of individuality and given me a unique opportunity to partake in someone’s concerns. Being in a different environment has not only allowed me to admire the diversity in others but also recognize the strength my differences can bring. Home is not limited to your country of origin or the language you speak. It is where someone will listen and recognize your story, and I have the ability to provide a small part of it in my every day.


Jennifer Vu is a second-year student with the Duke Physician Assistant Program. Email jennifer.vu@duke.edu with questions.

Editor’s note: Duke Physician Assistant Program students blog twice a month. Blogs represent the opinion of the author, not the Duke Physician Assistant Program, the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, or Duke University.