Hai Nguyen Awarded Amc Young Talent Fund

One PhD in Two Time Zones

When he was still a medical student in Vietnam, Hai was confronted with a life-changing event during a trip to a remote area in Vietnam. He met an elderly woman, who was severely ill from tuberculosis on the verge of death but was too poor to afford the transportation fee to receive free medical treatment. This curable disease was fatal for this woman. It struck Hai that both poverty and ethnicity played a major role in her access to treatment, or lack thereof.

When Hai finished medical school, he was determined to do a PhD. Hai met with Frank Cobelens at the 2018 Union Conference in the Hague on TB. This is where a “chat” quickly turned into an interview and, subsequently, a PhD project.

Moving back to Vietnam in his first year of PhD is not exactly what Hai had planned for. Under supervision of Prof. Frank Cobelens, Hai began his PhD project in 2019 at AIGHD analyzing TB trends in Vietnam. Using 2 national community-based TB surveys from 2007 and 2017 with over 60 000 participants, Hai aims to outline potential lessons learned and the status of TB control in Vietnam. Hai had only been in the Netherlands for 6 months when Covid-19 hit Europe, causing lockdowns and restrictive measures. With the uncertainty at the time, canceled courses and being forced to stay indoors, Hai decided to flee back to Vietnam and write his research project from there. His arrival at Vietnam airport was a unique one; he was tested and escorted to quarantine in a military camp for a period of two weeks.

Virtually writing a PhD has proven challenging, especially with the time difference between Vietnam and the Netherlands; but now that everyone has adapted to a Covid-19 world, his AMC courses have started again and working online has become the “new normal”. Hai is glad that his supervision is still going well amid the pandemic as he is still able to perform bi-weekly online meetings with his supervisor Frank. Putting things in perspective, Hai is “one of the lucky ones” whose data collection is already complete (survey). He speaks to the struggle of peers whose research has been affected by this crisis, not only to mention that it has become increasingly difficult to get PhD funding for any non-COVID related research. “Everything in life has to have priorities. We need to focus on this pandemic and resolve it before we can get back to normal. Then we can start shifting our attention back to non-Covid-19 research. It is an understandable, though tough, decision.”

The AMC Young Talent Fund Award

Hai has already co-authored 5 articles in total, 2 of which name him as first author. He travels through different time zones throughout the day; first he is a doctor in Vietnam in the mornings and afternoons, and then attends courses and conducts research in Europe in the evenings. As if that were not enough for Hai, he also became the winner of the AMC Young Talent Fund (YTF), winning the Louise Gunning Public Health Study Grant which will fund his attendance to public health courses at the world leading Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. With this grant, Hai has the unique opportunity to attend 4 courses in epidemiology with a special focus on Low- and Middle-income countries, a feature that he felt was missing in his more general AMC courses. Among his 4 chosen courses, Hai chose one related to Social Epidemiology where he will learn more about the social determinants of health: a passion of his that began after witnessing the death of the elderly lady in rural Vietnam. Attending these courses, which will start next July, is a key step in his career development and PhD research. We hope that he will be able to attend them in person as the Grant allows him to, although it is still an honor for him to attend them online. We wish Hai the best of luck in the time to come, in his research, work, and in classes at John Hopkins University. It is well deserved!