Your Gifts at Work

Family Tragedy Inspires Student to Pursue Medical Career


Inspired by the death of a brother he never had a chance to meet, UH student Binh Vu is pursuing a career in medicine, hoping to help others with limited access to health care.

Before Vu was even born, his family dealt with the death of his brother following complications related to his premature birth. Vu’s older sister also was born prematurely and faced challenges to her health, Vu said.

The family, fearing any other health emergencies, left their home country of Vietnam for Houston.

“[My brother] was born premature, and he died a few weeks after because healthcare wasn’t very accessible to everyone,” Vu said. “We immigrated because we were afraid for our health.”

Now, though his family is covered by health insurance, Vu has witnessed a similar lack of access to health care for many in his new country. Hoping to work toward solutions to broaden access to healthcare, Vu, a senior biology major, plans to attend medical school and become a doctor.

“When we came over here, we thought that healthcare was for everyone, but it’s still only for those who can afford insurance,” he said. “Healthcare is slowly changing, but I’m hoping … one day we can make it more affordable by changing some of the practices.”

Vu’s journey from Vietnam to the University of Houston was not an easy one. When his family moved to Houston from Vietnam in 1994, he was six-years-old and didn’t know any English.

“It was hard learning English, so I was in ESL [English as a second language] for about three or four years,” Vu said. “At school, I couldn’t communicate with anyone because there was a language barrier. The first two years, it was just talking to teachers and family.”

After three or four years of ESL classes, Vu’s English improved.

“Being over here in America, you have to know English to get somewhere,” he said. “I just pushed myself every day. I read a lot of books.”

By the fourth grade, his teachers noticed that he was ready for new challenges.

“From then, I went into honors programs and AP classes,” he said. “I just did a lot of work. I tried to achieve what my parents expected.”

When searching for a place to continue his education, Vu was drawn to the University of Houston because of its nearness to family, its affordability, and mostly, its location near the Texas Medical Center.

“I knew that UH has a lot of programs with the Medical Center,” he said. “There are just a lot of opportunities in going here. I get to meet more diverse students, have better quality teachers. It just opened up a lot of opportunity for me.”

Vu has received several scholarships, including from his high school, the UH Asian Alumni Association, the Houston Endowment and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The scholarships have enabled Vu to not worry so much about money, and take advantage of the opportunities available at UH to help him achieve his goals.

During his freshman year, Vu joined several on-campus organizations, including the pre-health society, which helped introduce him to his chosen career. Now, as he gets closer to graduation, Vu has been able to find opportunities at other Medical Center institutions that are best suited to helping him achieve his goals.

For instance, Vu now works at the UT Health Center in the pharmacy department. He also does research at the Methodist Hospital. Both experiences are possible because of UH’s connection and nearness to the Medical Center.

“If I had gone out of state or out of the city, I would not have received the opportunities I have going to UH,” he said.

Though he is a commuter student – traveling up to 40 minutes each way to school – Vu said he still enjoys the college experience offered on campus.

“It’s just the environment, and how everywhere you look there is diversity,” he said. “The university has a lot of events where you can have a chance to experience school pride.”

When he graduates, it will be a very proud moment for his parents, Vu said.

“My parents never graduated from college,” Vu said. “They never attended college. So being the first to graduate with a degree – it’s an honor for them.”

Vu is in the process of applying to medical schools. Ideally, he said he would like to stay close to home.

“I want to stay here in Houston, close to family and close to UH,” Vu said. “I want to connect back to UH as an alum … I want to give back.”