A Vanderbilt University Medical Center Alumni Publication

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Choosing Vanderbilt

Introducing the Scholarship Initiative for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

By Sarah Wolf
February 2012

Two of the greatest telephone calls Van Nguyen has ever received read “Call from Tennessee” on his caller ID.

John A. Zic, M.D., associate dean of Admissions, placed the first call to inform Nguyen of his acceptance to the School of Medicine. “I was thrilled – Vanderbilt was at the top of my list, but I had to wait to see if any schools would offer attractive aid packages,” Nguyen says. The next call, from Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for Health Affairs, made a Vanderbilt medical education a reality for Nguyen. He was offered a full scholarship.

Medical Student Van Nguyen. Photo by John Russell.

Medical Student Van Nguyen. Photo by John Russell.

When Nguyen received the call from Balser, he was taking care of his nephews and working as a substitute teacher to cover the costs of medical school applications and interviews. His family had immigrated to California from Vietnam when he was 8, and Nguyen expected to follow in the footsteps of his hard-working older siblings who had attended community colleges. “Even when we struggled to pay rent, my mother’s work ethic and her focus on the importance of education never wavered,” says Nguyen, who credits his mother for instilling the values of dedication and service.

Nguyen’s path took an unexpected turn when he received a scholarship to attend the University of California, Berkeley, as an undergraduate, where he was encouraged to pursue a career in medicine that would marry his interest in science with his dedication to serving those in need.

The Scholarship Initiative for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, launched in fall 2011, will extend this opportunity to other students who seek to make a difference in medicine. Through the generosity of alumni, community partners, patients and faculty, this initiative will allow students to choose Vanderbilt regardless of their financial circumstances. Vanderbilt students, on average, receive smaller scholarship awards than students at peer institutions, whose larger endowments allow larger scholarships. The Class of 2011 left campus with an average debt of $135,800. This initiative will strengthen the scholarship endowment to help reduce that student debt, freeing students like Nguyen to build a career that’s meaningful to them and the communities they serve.

Balser, a scholarship student himself, knows the value of this initiative. “Scholarships change lives, for those who receive them and those who give them. I benefited from the tremendous legacy of giving when I was a student here. My scholarship made everything possible,” he says.

Nguyen, now a third-year student, is working toward his goal of providing oncologic care to underserved populations. “Medicine is the greatest hope that we have against all diseases, and I want to be a part of the generation that brings its potential to everyone in the world. I owe much of my success to the generosity of others, and I want to contribute to society by maintaining the health of its people, so that they too can make their positive influence on the world,” says Nguyen.

As a result of the Scholarship Initiative, Balser says he looks forward to making many more of those life-changing telephone calls.


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