First-Generation American Holds on to Heritage, Pursues Medical Degree
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First-Generation American Holds on to Heritage as He Pursues Medical Degree 
AANHPI Heritage Month

May 31, 2024

By Shayla Jones, MarCom student intern

PCOM South Georgia Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine student Justin Nguyen (DO ’27) understands that representation is important. As the son of immigrants, he brings his family heritage with him on his journey toward becoming a physician and creating a campus organization for Asian American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students along the way.

Justin Nguyen (DO ’27)
Justin Nguyen (DO ’27)

“Both of my parents immigrated from Vietnam,” he said “They came here as teenagers. They have a bit of a fusion of the heritage and values that they held back in Vietnam, but they still know what it means to grow up as teenagers in America. Part of my family is Buddhist, and the other half is Catholic.”

Though Nguyen was born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, he grew up with Vietnamese traditions.

“In my house, and in most Vietnamese houses, you’ll see an altar that has been built to honor a lot of our ancestors and to honor a lot of the people that came before us,” he said. “Traditions such as when you have a wedding, a tea ceremony, everything is done in respect of our elders and the people that came before us. That’s really something that I take with me every single day now. Even though I know that this exam may be a little tough, it's always a great reminder when seeing my great-grandparents’ photo on the altar that a lot of things that they went through were so that I could pursue medicine.”

Nguyen decided to pursue a medical degree while obtaining his bachelor’s degree in biology at Emory University in Atlanta.

“I wasn’t one of those people that knew they wanted to be a doctor since they were a kid,” he said. “This was something where I was trying to figure out if I wanted to get a PhD instead or go and do a medical program. I was really interested in research back in undergrad. After meeting some wonderful folks, like my mentor, who is a PCOM Georgia grad, showed me what it would be like to go into medicine. That was probably my indicator to try out medicine.”

Nguyen met his mentor, Dr. Cortie “C.J” Rolison IV, DO, in an unconventional setting.

“In undergrad I was really into marching band, so I did this thing called drum corps, which is like a professional marching band,” he said. “Dr. Rolison was the head physician over the group in Atlanta called Spirit of Atlanta, and he was the head of the medical team. That’s how I got to meet him because I was a tuba player. Second week into training, I sprained my ankle, so I got to see him quite a bit. It was really interesting because I never really heard of osteopathic medicine until I met him. A lot of the stuff he learned from being a PCOM Georgia student and being a sports medicine physician especially equated to what helped me to recover. At the end of it, I shared with him that I was really interested in medicine, and he told me that I could volunteer at the clinic as a medical intern the next year. This opportunity really did seal the deal for me wanting to be a physician. I want to help people not only in the clinic but in the field also. I want to really make a difference.

"I want to take care of my patient, make them feel better, but I also want to get to know them as a person.”

Nguyen said he chose osteopathic medicine because of its holistic approach.

“Growing up, I did have some exposure to different types of medicine,” he said. “Some of my family members are people who do look at alternative medicines to make them feel better. Going into medical school with a biology background, medicine in general is moving into a direction that is extremely holistic. Especially with people not only looking towards physicians, but physical therapists, chiropractors and all kinds of medical professionals that could provide help. That’s where you realize osteopathic medicine is more of a holistic career in medicine. You can still diagnose, prescribe the correct drug and do the correct procedures, but you also realize you have all these extra tools underneath your belt that are useful for those who can’t particularly afford medications, that might be the only option that they have. I want to be able to provide that for my future patients.”

Nguyen said he chose PCOM South Georgia because of the community.

“This was a place where the faculty, the students, the admins, everyone here is so integrated as one whole unit,” he said. “It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else … being somewhere that’s so small but that’s also as tight-knit as PCOM South Georgia, you live and breathe in the same community as everyone else who goes to school here, everyone else who teaches here. We all belong in the same community.”

After completing his first year in medical school, Nguyen sees himself pursuing a specialty that will enable him to walk through the phases of life with his patients.

“I really want to go into a specialty that has a lot of long-term care with the patient,” he said. “I really do value having long-term relationships with patients. Something in primary care would be nice, or anything where you can take care of the patient from the very beginning to the very end. I want to take care of my patient, make them feel better, but I also want to get to know them as a person.”

During Nguyen’s time as a first-year DO student, he started the process of establishing an organization for students who identify as Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders.

“The important thing is to be a symbol of support to the people that identify underneath this group,” he said. “To not only advocate for people that are Asian-American, but it’s also important for people who are Asian-American to have physicians that not only look like them but understand them. Having the support of physicians and other medical professionals that are a part of those identities: Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander would encourage a lot of students to join.”

One of the main events that Nguyen plans on celebrating with this organization on campus is Lunar New Year.

“One of the big ones that a lot of Asian-Americans relate to is Lunar New Year,” he said. “Usually it happens around February each year. It represents rebirth of not only a new year but also a time where families and friends can reconnect and are able to enjoy each other’s company. Also, some of us want to bring Lunar New Year to some of our classmates that don’t really know what Lunar New year is about…It’s especially important so that if they have patients that are Asian-American, it’s a way to connect to them, and go beyond what you know.”

Nguyen plans on having the AANHPI organization collaborate with other organizations as well.

“One of the first things we want to do here in South Georgia is collaborate with some of the other organizations in starting up a clinic that medical students can help run with some of our faculty physicians,” he said. “That the community can see physicians of different identities…which would be an amazing opportunity because a physician can be any color, any creed, any identity.”

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About PCOM South Georgia

In 2019, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied 125-year history, extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia. An additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia, PCOM South Georgia offers both a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution that trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the region. For more information, visit or call 229-668-3110.

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