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Updated: Jul 24, 2023

A sense of belonging — How I embarked on an unexpected journey

Graduating from pharmacy school
Graduation with the Boys

This has been hovering around as an aura since I’ve left home ten years ago to become… something better than an irresponsible degenerate. Born to old-school Vietnamese parents, the priorities for them (and their six children) was work, school, and church. Imagine growing up on a farm, escaping communism on a boat, chasing the American dream for your kids without knowing a lick of English.

My parents never got an education, but if there is one thing I’ve taken from them its their work ethic. I was a typical football jock, graduated high school with a 2.2 GPA. Figured I wouldn’t make the league and started actually studying at Santa Monica Community College. Grand Canyon University was the only school to accept me after 1-years worth credits.

Mark Nguyen interviewing for pharmacy school
My first pharmacy school interview at Midwestern University - Glendale (2018)

I really didn’t know what I was doing at the time in 2012. The only thing I knew was I needed a new environment, to become something. Pharmacy was just a random discussion I had with a prior degenerate friend of my brother; I remember thinking, “if this idiot can be a pharmacist, then I can too”. From that point, I just checked off the boxes to apply for pharmacy school.

Caught right in the pharmacy paradigm shift and didn’t even notice. Fast track, I made some awesome memories at Washington State University during pharmacy school. Retail was not my thing after always having to hold it down for a short-staffed store with a 500 script average, just me and the pharmacist most times. Checked off the boxes. Work experience. Student involvement. I’m pretty sure I was the last to make the top 20% of my class, just to look better on paper.

It was during pharmacy school that I discovered my purpose in pharmacy. I loved teaching and giving back to the profession. There was always an opportunity to make a difference through student involvement. Mental health was a huge interest for me, especially with recent events at the local high school. I’ll never forget partnering with these kids for this project. Below was our submission for a national pharmacy school competition to address a community need.

Check out our local news feature: Community Suicide Prevention Symposium | YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Right now, Spokane Public Schools is… 10K views, 113 likes, 32 loves, 49 comments, 51 shares, Facebook Watch Videos from KHQ Local News: YOU ARE NOT ALONE… Here is our submission to the competition, earning Second Place: Pharm4Me Challenge 2018: WSU and NCHS Submission

Sheesh, I should practice what I preach. Crazy how I’m probably the one who needed this more than anything. I’ve been a clinical pharmacist since May 2019 and completed my pharmacy residency in emergency medicine in 2021. Fairly fresh off the boat, but like anything else, the more hours you put into anything, you’re going to get more exposure to more learning opportunities.

I was getting good at taking care of high acuity patients. Flip flopping my schedule, covering any shift I can to be that “guy”. The issue was… this has always been me, wanting to be that dependable “guy”. Every since a junior in high school, I’ve always had a job and was that every weekender/willing to cover shifts. Chick-fil-a, Buffalo Wild Wings, Boys and Girls Club, CVS, Walgreens, Costco, student and residency rotation sites up until this point. I finally got to the American Dream.

Upgraded from a Toyota Camry 2009 FWD to survive in the snow. New job, new house, new car. Life should seem good, right? Sure, my parents were proud (nothing would’ve been possible without them). I loved what I did, almost a little too much. My practice went from zero to 100 real quick; short-staffed, high turnover, endless high acuity patients. This provides a unique learning experience, I’ll tell you that. I was fortunate to get an overnight seven on, seven off schedule strictly in the ED. Prior to the official position, I loved covering both EDs and ICUs because that’s how you get good at patient care, volume. The flip-flopping continued for eight months, covering ICU shifts on my off-weeks and/or adjusting my overnight schedule to accommodate for others’ time off. For the first time in my life, the Super Mark persona was cracked.

The best way of describing the seamlessly bottomless spiraling hole of emptiness is life passes by living in your thoughts without moving a muscle. I am a people-person, socializing is what brings me happiness. It is hard to describe the treatment healthcare professionals get from a wide range of personalities. Living by myself, I didn’t really have anything to bring back home.

If there was one thing that really hurt, it was seeing RNs/CCTs/RTs/PAs/NPs/MDs/DOs busting their asses off, just for an entitled patient to say the most inappropriate, uneducated, disrespectful comments. Ask your friends in healthcare what patients have said. It just saddened me to see moms go home to their kids, when some disrespectful patient squeals out “f*** you and the vaccine” as she is trying to save their life. Intubated. I just didn’t understand. How does someone explain that to their family?

There was so much division amongst our society. As a huge enthusiast of military strategy and geopolitics, the disastrous invasion of Ukraine by Russia only contributed to my negative thoughts. I actually voted for the first time during this period; Biden and Trump were the best we have? Not only that, what a huge eye opener to how divided/corrupt politicians are. 401K? I don’t understand how I had a negative percentage sign while politicians made record trades. Seems like I got stringed into six-figure loans without any financial skills. The man was just so confused… this can’t be the American dream.

Mentors, friends, and family are the solution to picking yourself off the ground and getting on your feet. Shout out to all of those who have contributed to my journey. Being cool and tough isn’t “hard” anymore. Transitioning into adulthood means accepting identifying and discussing the problem.

After meeting with one of my mentors who I aspire to be like, we discussed what was my purpose before all this happened. What made Mark, Mark? Well, I loved patient care, precepting, and teaching. When I got that job, as sad as it sounds, I looked forward to working so I can feel happiness from those things. Our solution was getting back to my roots; what made me happy within pharmacy that didn’t include direct patient care. Hmm, student/professional development, lifelong learning, and healthcare professional advocacy. The videos above are just a sample of my experiences of living out my passion in pharmacy. What a coincidence that I could’ve learned from the kids I worked with. Let’s get our learnin’ going.

You really do learn the most about yourself during the lowest points. Say hi to a stranger. Give someone a hug. Thank someone. Reach out to a friend. I appreciate those who did for me; not everyone can thank those who cared for them.

Wishing you continued happiness and blessings,


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