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Sept. 19, 2022

Student view: Working to make changes in the health care system

Donna Tran is a third-year medical student at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. In May 2022, she graduated with a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is the National President of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association and Medical Student Representative of the Association for College Psychiatry. Recently she completed an internship with the U.S. Senate HELP Committee and the Maryland Department of Health.

Donna Tran at Johns Hopkins Master of Public Health graduation ceremony

In the 1970s, my father fled Vietnam for the United States with nothing but the clothes on his back. He was 16. To survive in America, he had to start over in a new high school, learn a new language and even work as a janitor for $2 an hour. He is the most important man in my life. During my first year of college, he and my mother told me that he had a brain tumor.

My desire to become a physician stemmed from my family experience with cancer. So, after entering medical school, my desire to help others through similar situations strengthened, and I wanted to learn how to enact such systemic changes on a large-scale population level through government, academia, and industry. I realized that I could help patients individually, but I wondered how I could contribute my skills and talents on a larger scale. I wanted to give a voice to underrepresented patients and groups and serve them through difficult times, particularly with the COVID pandemic experience and increased anti-Asian racism.

On top of medical school, I became the National President of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association in 2020. APAMSA is the largest, national organization of medical and pre-medical students committed to addressing the unique health challenges of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, made up of over 10,000 members across over 160 local chapters nationwide. My main goals have been to support the AANHPI medical community through advocacy efforts and civic engagement, leadership development, and prioritizing national initiatives in community outreach, diversity and beyond.

Donna Tran at U.S. Senate

Because I wanted to serve underrepresented patients and groups, I took a gap year to earn a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Obtaining an MPH was a natural fit for my future life goals. I hope to stay in academic medicine and be actively involved in federal level positions, while working in a hospital or clinic and continuing research and teaching. I like exploring many interests and avenues, but my goal of serving minorities and mental health initiatives has persisted throughout the years.

At the Maryland Department of Health, I learned about the gaps in the state health care system and engaged with stakeholders from state government, academic and research institutions and private practice and industry.

I also had the opportunity to intern for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and the Maryland Department of Health in 2022, which fit my desire to learn about health care in a systemic way. I want to improve population health, particularly minority health, women’s health and public mental health.

During my time as a Health Policy Intern with the U.S. Senate HELP Committee, I participated in civic and political engagement and helped my team. It is immensely gratifying seeing my writing and policy skills improve, because these political and policy skills are not taught in medical school. Being in a hands-on, immersive experience on Capitol Hill has been life-changing, and I am grateful for all the kind mentors and team members that have taught me about how our legislation and government works, and so much more. 

I am back at MSU now to complete my third year of medical school. I look forward to taking everything I have learned from my MPH along with everything I am learning at medical school to better help our health care system.

To learn more about Tran, watch her TEDx talk at MSU from 2020.

September is Women in Medicine Month.

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