Name: Tiffany Nguyen
Alma Mater: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Background: During my undergraduate years, I volunteered at my local hospital, psychiatric services, rehabilitation centers, and now currently intern at a dental office. As a volunteer I contributed direct patient care by taking vital signs, handing out ice chips, and engaging in conversation when there was more leisure time. I learned a lot about different career paths as I worked alongside healthcare practitioners and saw first-hand how they create treatment plans and evaluate patient progress.
In addition to taking academic classes and volunteering, I had an on-campus job for 2 years with Student Health Center as a Peer Health Educator. We promoted healthy lifestyles campus-wide through hosting health fairs, facilitating workshops, and conducting health assessments that demonstrate safe and healthy practices regarding nutrition, exercise, mental health, sexual health, substance use, and stress management. One of my responsibilities as an exercise counselor was to teach the basics of physical activity and develop workout plans for students on an individual basis. I quickly learned that I couldn’t counsel every student in the same way or distribute the same workout plan to everyone. In order for each session to be effective, I had to first understand the students’ motivations before empowering them to develop a plan that they would see through. Working here reinforced my passion for helping others live healthy lifestyles and helped me recognize and respect the individuality of each person.
Why you serve: When I came across the CSU STEM VISTA program, I thought that it was a great opportunity to continue developing programs at my alma mater. Cal Poly Pomona has been my second home for the past 5 years and through the experience I had working with the on-campus health center, I knew that I would enjoy developing programs for the college population.
Ah-ha moment: The most difficult time of my VISTA year happened just three weeks into my service. I piloted Engineering Girls: It Takes a Village, a week-long event designed to emulate a college experience and introduce engineering to 20 girls from a local homeless shelter. Challenges came up because it was the first time that I have ever coordinated an event of this caliber: restless students, last-minute presentation cancellations, working until midnight, etc. These were made more difficult due to the fact that this was my first task as a VISTA; I didn’t have a firm handle on how to navigate the workplace or how to approach my supervisor with the concerns I had. I confided in a friend during the time when I was at my lowest and he brought up a simple solution: “Have you considered quitting?”
It’s easy to quit when it gets tough. But because of the challenges that came up, I learned a lot more from the event than if it had gone perfectly as planned: how to handle stressful situations, how to be flexible and improvise with scheduling, how to advocate for myself when I feel overworked, etc. Engineering Girls: It Takes a Village taught me to welcome challenges and see them as an opportunity for learning and growth. Any work worth doing will be difficult, but knowing that I played a part in organizing a successful event for these girls was an amazing experience.
Future Goals/Plans: My time spent in healthcare facilities, my role as a Peer Health Educator, and my VISTA experience has reaffirmed my passion to pursue a career that involves the community, health, wellness, and service – dentistry encapsulates all this and more. It involves not only manual dexterity and proper technical practices required to perform procedures, but also the care and compassion of a healthcare provider genuinely interested in the wellbeing of his or her patients.
I want to work in healthcare because it is a field dedicated to serving others and dentistry stood out as a profession when I noticed the unique relationship I had with my own dentist of 20 years. Through our consistent interactions, I know that the relationship I have with her is truly unique because of the care she puts in to her patients. As I continue to volunteer at the dental office, I witness the tremendous amount of honor being in a career where I can cure a patient’s oral diseases while fostering relationships with them.
My VISTA experience has helped me develop skillsets essential to a career in dentistry: how to analyze the needs of the community, manage a program, and how to determine the effectiveness of a program. But most importantly, one of our obligations as a VISTA is to participate in discussions involving social justice issues that revolve around working with people of different identities, affiliations, and abilities. Teaching science and learning how it plays a role in improving society as a whole is my passion, and through dentistry I look forward to being in a position where I can serve others while being an advocate in solving social issues such as access to clinics, affordable healthcare, and more.