A Picture-Perfect Match Day for Nguyen

Hung Nguyen on Match Day 2021

Hung Nguyen brought a framed photo of his father to the University of Missouri School of Medicine on March 19. It was Match Day, when fourth-year medical students across the nation open envelopes to learn where they’ve been selected to serve as resident doctors, and Nguyen couldn’t stop thinking about his dad, Leo Nguyen, who died in December after a long illness.

“I wanted to go through this process with him, so I would think about him every time I got news about an interview or when I got news that I’m matching,” Hguyen said. “Even today, I grabbed his picture and said, ‘Let’s pick up my envelope.’ ”

When Nguyen opened his envelope and saw that he would be staying at MU to serve his psychiatry residence, he was thrilled.

“Mizzou my first choice because I had really good attendings who wanted me to succeed when I was rotating with them as a fourth-year student and even before that,” Nguyen said. “They were very invested in me. I felt if I stayed here, I would have really strong mentors who would help me succeed. Also, I wanted to stay close to home, in case my mom needed me for anything.”

At MU, 97% of fourth-year medical students matched. Of that group, 27% will stay at MU for residency training, 37% will remain in the state and 32% will specialize in high-need care fields.

In a normal year, the students would have gathered with family and friends at the School of Medicine for a mass opening of envelopes. Because of COVID-19, that wasn’t possible this year, so students celebrated separately. Clutching the photo of his father, Nguyen processed a wide spectrum of emotions as he recalled his journey.

Leo Nguyen brought his family of four from Vietnam to St. Louis when Hung was 4. The Nguyens didn’t have much money and didn’t speak English.

“We all lived in one room,” Nguyen said. “We made a little dresser out of plastic boxes.”

Nguyen discovered at an early age that he had a knack for science, and that, coupled with his desire to help others, led him to pursue medicine. He was the first in his extended family to graduate from college. In medical school, Nguyen gravitated to psychiatry because he enjoyed getting to know patients personally as well as helping them medically.

“Higher education wouldn’t have been a thought in Vietnam because we couldn’t afford it,” Nguyen said. “Being able to go to college, being able to finish medical school, that was a big deal to my parents and my extended family. It was unimaginable for us. I’m grateful for this opportunity, grateful for all the things I’ve gotten in the United States and all the help I received to get me here.”

He said Department of Psychiatry faculty Amanda Kingston, MD, and Rasha El Kady, MD, were especially influential in his development. Now, Nguyen will get a chance to work alongside them and continue to learn as a resident doctor.

“One of the most rewarding moments in academia is working with intelligent, enthusiastic medical students like Hung,” El Kady said. “He stood out as a star student from day one, not only as a medical student on psychiatry rotation — he also started working with me on a publication during his rotation. I recruited him as a member in the Missouri Psychiatric Physicians Association website committee that I chair. He has been an active committee member with valuable inputs. I am looking forward to working with Hung in his residency training.”