London, Ontario (Western University): With three cardiologists in his family, Dr. Timothy Nguyen, a resident in the Department of Oncology, decided to break the mould and specialize in Radiation Oncology. Dr. Nguyen discusses how he discovered his specialization through an exploratory elective, what he values most about his interactions with patients and why he believes achieving professional success is ‘a marathon, not a sprint.’
Where you were born and raised, the degrees you have and your alma mater(s).
I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but spent a few years in Saint John, New Brunswick before settling into Mississauga, Ontario, where I attended high school. I completed my undergraduate studies in Biology at Western University and from there went on to study Medicine at Queens University.
Did you have a role model or mentor who inspired you to follow your academic path? If not, why did you decide to pursue medicine? When did you know that you wanted to pursue your specialty?
The decision to pursue medicine was largely due to inspiration and guidance from my three older cousins who are all practicing cardiologists in Austin, Texas. The rest of my family told me I couldn’t do cardiology because three is enough and they wanted more diversified and convenient medical advice. Plus, we all have the same last name so it was getting out of hand.
I found radiation oncology through an exploratory elective. What I love about the specialty is it’s a perfect blend of the things I enjoy in medicine: rich patient-physician relationships, counseling and patient education, a balance of clinic plus “something else”, anatomy, imaging and is one of the most multidisciplinary specialties you can find.
As a resident, I’m very lucky to be in a small program with excellent mentors. All the staff have influenced and impacted me in some way. A few notable radiation oncology staff who have been critical in defining my career aspirations, in addition to serving as both research and clinical mentors, include Dr. Bauman, Dr. Palma, Dr. Louie and Dr. Velker.
What has been your most rewarding experience to date in your residency?
The most memorable experiences for me are always moments when you realize the impact your day-to-day routine work has on patients and their caregivers. One particularly memorable time was when I received a kind thank you card from a patient’s family, which came at the most opportune time. It was during a stressful, demanding week when my reserves were running a bit low. In that context it was even more meaningful and offered much needed perspective and a moment to recharge. It was also conveniently on my birthday as well.
What has been the most challenging experience to date in your residency?
A single moment or experience doesn’t come to mind. One very challenging aspect of residency is finding balance in all the roles and responsibilities of your professional and personal life. It’s a constant give-and-take process of pushing yourself to be as productive as possible without overdoing it.
What learning from your undergraduate medical education or early residency do you return to often now as you are pursuing your residency?
Find your niche; Discover what you enjoy the most within your field and actively pursue and develop it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
How do you maintain balance in your life (hobbies, interests, voluntarism, etc…)?
Things that help me unwind outside of medicine include spending time with my partner, Chloe, hitting the gym, martial arts tricking, Netflix binges, end of day sushi sales and catching up with friends.
If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?
When the grind gets tough, fall back on the simple, accessible pleasures in life: Good food, good music and good conversation.
What are three albums that give a glimpse of who you are as a person?
Nujabes – Metaphorical Music / Modal Soul
J Cole- Sideline Story
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?
Anyone involved in writing the Radiation Oncology Royal College exam next year so I can email my real-life self all the answers. Just kidding, that’s cheating and I would never do that. I would be (insert any billionaire) and email transfer some of his/her money to my real life self’s account (it’s not stealing if I’m truly him/her for the day right?). I don’t need much so he/she probably wouldn’t even notice.
What is the most random thing you’ve ever watched on Netflix?
I don’t tend to delve into the darkest depths of Netflix, but I once watched a documentary called “The Man Who Ate Himself to Death” and I couldn’t look away.