I graduated from UC Irvine in the spring of 2003 – my degree was in Economics with a concentration in mathematical and econometric analysis. Economics appealed to me because I was interested in understanding ways to allocate scarce resources creatively and effectively among their alternative uses. The study of economics also provided me with a framework through which to understand poverty and the socioeconomic issues affecting minority and immigrant populations. It was my desire to help these populations achieve better lives, and as my education continued this goal slowly shaped into a desire to help them through medicine.
The turning point occurred late in college my college career, when I took an internship at the United Cambodian Community (UCC) center, a non-profit organization that works with the underserved and indigent. During my time there, I became aware of the unique health care disparities existing within underserved groups that were exacerbated by a lack of financial resources, along with prevailing cultural and language barriers. At the time, there was very little we as volunteers could do to improve their economic conditions, but we did to a great deal to educate community members about the importance of preventative care and early screening for diseases. I began to aid in organizing health fairs by contacting local hospitals and social services agencies to come and provide free information and educate the community about diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol, conditions that were common in poorer communities. At these fairs, patients deemed at risk for these diseases were given a list of free clinics in the area that they could go to for further medical care. I continued to hold these healthcare fares because I saw how much it meant to the people who attended.
My time at the UCC revealed to me the unique healthcare needs of this community and the dire shortage of qualified individuals who understand those needs. As a physician, I will rely on my dual American and Cambodian heritage to bridge the cultural divide that prevents this community and other minority groups from obtaining and accepting the care they need and deserve. In pursuit of this objective I set to work on completing the medical school prerequisites at California State University-Fullerton immediately following my graduation with a B.A. in Economics. At the same time, I worked as a student researcher in a membrane receptor lab, where I was the first in our group to show an increase in tyrosine phosphorylated proteins following fertilization in the sea tunicate. The chance to apply classroom theory to laboratory research allowed me to appreciate scientific principles within a larger context.
In the fall, I will be attending osteopathic medical school. I have always grown up with a sense of social responsibility, and so when I decided on a career in medicine I was drawn to the community focus of the osteopathic philosophy – its emphasis on the role of the primary care physician within the healthcare system and its patient-centered, holistic approach to treating illnesses. With the training I will receive in osteopathic medical school, I hope to make a difference in the health and well-being of my community through holistic medical care that attends not only to the whole individual, but also to the individual's environment context.