Updated: Feb 16
Nothing inspires us more than women who are passionate about the fields they work within and Debby Nguyen, debut author and Doctor of Pharmacy Student is no exception. Her passion for medicine and making a difference is commendable and we are excited to share her insights into how and why she ventured into medicine, why her parents have positively influenced her career, why the support of her friends and family are pivotal in her success so far and why you should read her book + more..... Debby you are without a doubt a POWERWOMAN!!
It is amazing to come across such a multifaceted woman! Let's start off with your decision to study Pharmacy & Data Science at Northeastern University. What made you want to move into this field?
I initially considered Cornell for environmental engineering, but the call of Pharmacy (and Boston) was strong! Healthcare, especially women's health, is a topic I care about deeply and Pharmacy is a versatile field where I can really make a difference. Combining my interest in Pharmacy with data science, I hope to work with digital health initiatives or start one myself to democratize healthcare access.
Do you come from a lineage of other family members who have also followed a career in medicine?
Yes! My parents owned an independent pharmacy for years and I used to do my homework everyday after school behind the counters. My grandpa on my dad's side was a famous traditional Vietnamese doctor in his hometown, and I recently found out that my great-grandpa and great-great-grandpa did the same. I would be the fifth generation in my family to pursue pharmacy/medicine.
This year, you wrote the book titled " Pills, Teas and Songs: Stories of Medicine Around the World. This is such a great topic for a book. How did you begin the process of writing it and were there any challenges along the way? If yes, how did you overcome them?
I began writing Pills, Teas, and Songs after taking a Modern Art History class, in which I wrote a paper on traditional Chinese medicine packaging design. Living in Boston, the only medicine you really see is Western medicine. When I was exploring Chinatown one day, I found a small pharmacy inside an Asian supermarket with all kinds of imported medicines from China, Vietnam, Japan, with highly decorative packaging design and thought, "Wow, CVS would never have anything like this." Although the book does not focus on packaging design, it was the inspiration for me to start writing.
There were many challenges along the way! Initially, I was very shy about interviewing people and had to really break out of my shell. The more people I talked to, the more relaxed and confident I became. Now, I've gotten much better at Zoom conversations and really enjoy the process. Additionally, writing about cultures, especially those that are not my own, is not easy and I really try my best to honor the people who have trusted me with their stories.
Your book features a collection of 11 stories of diverse medicine practices across different cultures including: Chinese medicine and Black midwifery. How did you decide what practices made the cut and how long did it take to conduct the research and to write the book overall?
I want to say it's impossible to cover all cultures and medicine practices in a single book, even though I would love to if I could. I started with Vietnamese and Chinese medicine because coming from Asia, this felt the most natural to me. The stories I wrote on Black midwifery, Ayahuasca in the Amazon, or Russian medicine during the Cold War, came from conversations with friends, documentaries I watched, or even discussions on Facebook groups. Inspiration comes from many places and I try my best to cover a wide range of geographical areas, to give voice to non-Western or Eurocentric cultures.
It took me 9 months to conduct the research, do interviews, and write the book! There weren't clear-cut phases, I mostly did all three at the same time to keep everything fresh when I was writing.
Living in a digital age with so many authors now using social media to promote their work, what social platforms have you found to be the most effective in spreading the word about your work?
Surprisingly, Facebook has been an amazing platform. Although Instagram is where I tell my family and friends, who give me unwavering love and support, Facebook groups focused on medicine or Asian identity are where I've had a lot of success in connecting with total strangers. However, I've been doing a lot of interviews and account takeovers on Instagram, which has been great for building my personal brand as a debut author!
Now in the pre-order stage, your book is to be published by New Degree Press. What process did you have to undertake to get a publisher for your work?
I considered many publishing options but ultimately decided on New Degree Press. As an undergraduate in college, I was connected via the PEP Fellowship with the Georgetown Creator Institute, which connected me with New Degree Press. I've also been awarded the Honors Propel Grant by Northeastern University, which gives me a lot of support for the publishing process.
Aside from medicine and writing, what other interests do you hold?
I love traveling! Last year around this time, I solo-traveled to Laos and loved the experience. My interest in learning about different cultures also influenced me deeply when writing Pills, Teas, and Songs. Although we all have to put traveling on hold at the moment, I believe books can take you all over the world and that is how I "travel" for now.
Who or what would you say inspires you the most within your life and work?
It's cliche but my parents have a big influence on my life and work. They work from morning to night, yet have so much passion and energy for what they do. At the dinner table, my parents would talk about their childhood in Vietnam right after the war, and have really instilled in me the value of hard work. They're also each other's best friends and spend 24/7 together, even after 20 years of marriage!
No matter who you are, life from time to time put stumbling blocks in the way. On your journey, what setbacks; if any have you have you had to deal with and what ways have you overcome them?
There have definitely been setbacks and a lot of it had to do with my personal development. For example, women like me who are outspoken and are passionate about what they do, are often viewed as intimidating. This is not exclusive to Vietnam, where I grew up; I see a lot of the same sentiments in the US even if they're expressed more subtly. For the longest time, I've internalized a lot of anger towards that yet still chose to stand behind the scenes. However, I'm lucky to have incredible women in my life who push me everyday to be loud with my passions and share my gifts with the world. Now, I'm much more comfortable in my own skin and thus able to pursue my passions with full force.
You are currently a second year pharmacy and data science student at Northeastern University. This must take up a lot of time! How do you balance writing and studying?
I'm still figuring that out! Pharmacy school is not easy and it only gets harder from here. However, I think when you love something, you learn to make it work no matter what. I cannot do well academically without being creative, and writing has been how I survive. I also have a great support system of family and friends, so whenever I'm stressed out I always have someone to talk to.
What do you do for self care?
I love to stay in and watch movies! It really takes my mind off things and recently I watched Birds of Passage, which is a beautiful movie about how the drug trade influences traditional ways of life in an indigenous Colombian community.
Why should WWS readers check out your book? Give us your best elevator pitch...
Pills, Teas, and Songs is for anyone who loves to learn about cultures and people! While we are all currently confined to our homes, my book will take you on a journey centered around medicine from China, Russia, India, to Nigeria, Peru, and more. Through the book, I hope to inspire curiosity and cultural understanding because medicine is personal yet is something we all grew up with and are connected by.
What's the best advice you have been given in life so far?
"Be kind to others because sometimes only luck separates our circumstances." -my dad.
Do you have plans to write more books around this subject matter?
I definitely hope so! Medicine and culture are topics that inspire me endlessly and are part of my identity.
How and where can our readers keep up with you?
Interview by @Women_Who_Slay_