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Arnold School of Public Health


Fulbright Scholar Ly Tran completes master of public health degree to improve health in Vietnam

February 11, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Ly Tran was faced with a difficult decision when she had to choose a career path as a tenth grader in Vietnam. Her parents encouraged her to become a teacher—a more “appropriate” profession in their eyes and one that would not be out of reach for the low-income family due to the free tuition that accompanied it. 

Determined to learn more about her own body and mind and make her parents proud by helping them and their community live healthier lives, Tran forged ahead with her decision to become a medical doctor. By studying hard and earning scholarships, she completed her doctor of medicine at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in six years.

I strongly believed that there must be more radical solutions to keep people healthy, and we did not need to wait until people with ongoing health conditions came to us to receive a long list of pills.

-Ly Tran, master of public health alumna and Fulbright Scholar

During medical school, however, she quickly realized that she would not be happy working as a clinical physician treating sick people’s illnesses in hospitals. “Whenever I communicated with patients, I could not concentrate on how to diagnose and treat their diseases because I was always distracted by questions such as how much pain they were suffering, how difficult it was for them to have enough money to pay all the bills and how their family members manage their routines to take care of the patients,” she says of shifting her focus to public health. “I strongly believed that there must be more radical solutions to keep people healthy, and we did not need to wait until people with ongoing health conditions came to us to receive a long list of pills.”

Following her graduation at the top of her class, Tran turned down an offer at a major hospital to work for a public health program assisting students. Then she received a scholarship to study biomedicine in France. It was here that she first encountered epidemiology and biostatistics, which she grew to love.  

Upon her return to Vietnam, Tran took a position as a researcher at the Pasteur Institute to help control the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern region of Vietnam. She applied her growing body of knowledge to the challenges of the epidemic, decreasing the number of new cases while increasing the number of patients accessing care and treatment services and leading a project to help her organization comply with a new law related to HIV/AIDS.

Through her work with the Pasteur Institute, Tran often collaborated with experts from the United States, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She began to believe that the best way to maximize the productivity of these types of partnerships would be to enhance her understanding through additional education.

“In addition, it was obvious that the bilateral relationship between the USA and Vietnam was very strong in the public health area, especially in HIV/AIDS programs with many Vietnam projects and programs funded by American organizations,” she says.  

Tran pursued funding through the Fulbright Scholar Program because it provided an opportunity to enhance intercultural relations, diplomacy and cultural competence between the United States and other nations in the world. She chose UofSC for her program of study because of the Arnold School of Public Health’s national rankings as well as its expertise in cancer epidemiology.

Improving physical and mental health and diet are some of the most efficient ways to prevent a lot of chronic diseases, and so I really want to participate in research about how to help people increase physical activity, have a healthy diet, and take better care of their mental health.

-Ly Tran, master of public health alumna and Fulbright Scholar

During her master of public health in epidemiology program, Tran found a mentor in clinical associate professor and graduate director Linda Hazlett. “Dr. Hazlett was always making positive impact in my life, encouraging me when things seemed impossible and always supporting me,” Tran says. “She understood me not only as one of her graduate students but also as an international student and as a mother living far from my children. Her words always made my heart warm and increased my willpower and determination to boost my chance of success.”

Professor of epidemiology Susan Steck and assistant professor of epidemiology Nansi Boghossian also made an impact on Tran. “Dr. Steck gave me a lot of valuable advice to develop my study plan and supported me when I decided to change my study program,” she says. “Dr. Boghossian was constantly looking for ways to improve my study performance and to support me while I completed my program of study.”

After graduating in December, Tran stayed on at Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital, where she had completed her practicum working with the hospital’s cancer registry system. She will continue conducting data analysis and publishing her findings to provide more precise and comprehensive cancer-related information to the government, local hospitals and healthcare organizations.

“Like many other countries in the world, Vietnam is suffering from the burden of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer,” Tran says. “Improving physical and mental health and diet are some of the most efficient ways to prevent a lot of chronic diseases, and so I really want to participate in research about how to help people increase physical activity, have a healthy diet, and take better care of their mental health.”