Commencement 2017: Hard work, perseverance, hope propel student toward a career in medicine

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Catherine Linh. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 1, 2017 – Persistence. In Catherine Linh’s family, persistence is passed down, a more dominant and easily traceable trait than either height or eye color.

It wears many faces – that of the young, single mother leaving her country behind and working to support her family in America; that of a grandmother studying for her Naturalization Exam to pave the way for her son and his family to immigrate; that of a child learning English in order to speak on behalf of her family.

Linh ’17, a chemistry major and honors minor who will earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island on May 21, is a first-generation American and the first in her family to graduate from college. The Shrewsbury, Mass. native aspires to be a cardiologist. And she characterizes her time at URI as “a journey of discovering my potential and of unlocking the potential in others.”

Arguably, she’s been doing that her whole life.

Linh is an only child in a matriarchal family. Her mother, Huong Ho, is a rework technician who immigrated to the United States in 1989 at the age of 22 with her adoptive mother, Muoi Nguyen. Ho immediately began working and saving money. Nguyen pursued her citizenship. Both had the same goal: to bring Nguyen’s son (Ho’s adoptive brother) and his family to America. Eventually, all became American citizens. Linh’s part in the process? Learn English. Quickly. After completing her schoolwork, Linh would study English language workbooks. This course of study would serve the family in unexpected ways.

 

Nguyen developed respiratory issues. First, asthma. Then, tuberculosis. So, while other children were at soccer or the dance studio, Linh spent much of her elementary and middle school years in hospital rooms where she would act as a translator, explaining to her grandmother what her doctors were doing in terms of her care. Linh took in more than the doctors’ words.

“In observing the manner of the doctor, I saw that the doctor wasn’t addressing my grandmother,” Linh says. “Patients should feel they have a voice in the matter.”

Linh is interested in studying cardiology at one of four Massachusetts schools: UMass Medical (at which she did a summer internship in the department of molecular medicine), Boston University, Harvard or Tufts. Her resume is an impressive list of achievements, awards and internships that raise eyebrows both for their complexity – she most recently stimulated calcium alginate hydrogels containing model drugs and protein growth factors ultrasonically – and their diversity: She spent a school year as an explosive and energetic lab intern working in URI’s Center of Excellence in Explosives, Detection, Mitigation, and Response. That’s in addition to serving as president of the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences Seeds of Success organization and volunteering at nearby South County Hospital.

And maintaining an overall grade point average of 3.89.

All of which brings us back to Linh’s most recognizable heritable trait: perseverance. Evidence: her marathoner’s approach to preparing for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). For the past two months, Linh has been in training, devoting her Saturdays to online practice exams (seven-to-eight hours in length each). Her hope is to not only gauge how she’s doing from one exam to the next but also to safeguard against crashing.

“My mother always says, go for your dreams. Don’t give up on them. My grandmother and my mom are the most important people in my life,” Linh says. “I go to school not only for myself but for my mom. She’s my role model.”