Vina Nguyen’s grandfather died from cancer because of a lack of proper medical care.
“All the doctors did was give him over-the-counter prescriptions,” Nguyen said. “It was only two days before he died that he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.”
Nguyen, a fourth-year human biology and society student, said the lack of accessible healthcare in underprivileged communities in San Diego, where she grew up, was one of the reasons she joined Medical, Education Missions and Outreach, a student-run club at UCLA.
Students and physicians in UC Irvine founded MEMO in 2007 to help impoverished communities in Vietnam, and the club has since grown in size and outreach by expanding its health care services to minority communities in Orange County, California. The club is hosting an event Wednesday that marks its 11th year of service and will feature student-run booths and speakers discussing the importance of cardiovascular health.
The club, which started at UCLA in 2009, holds quarterly health fairs in Orange County, biweekly fundraisers, and community service events, such as volunteering at food banks and providing care packages to homeless individuals.
Nguyen, who is MEMO’s co-outreach director, said the club began working with Vietnamese communities in Orange County because many lack access to primary health care, do not have the opportunity to complete their education and face language barriers.
“As an immigrant population, Southeast Asians in the U.S. have one of the lowest education attainment rates and only about 50 percent of Vietnamese-Americans have limited English proficiency,” Nguyen said.
The club’s fundraising efforts support annual medical mission trips to Vietnam where students and physicians provide dental checkups, blood pressure tests and ultrasounds. Over the last decade, the club expanded its programs to include dental programs, funding for heart surgeries, hepatitis B screenings, academic scholarships and support for orphanages in Vietnam.
Throughout its 11 years of service, MEMO has provided more than 570 scholarships, 10,000 health screenings and funded more than 50 heart surgeries in Vietnam.
Several members of MEMO said the club gave them an opportunity to get hands-on experience in health care and gain a better understanding of health issues in local and international communities.
MEMO intern Susan Le, a first-year biology student, said she joined the club to gain experience in health care and thinks the club is inclusive. She added she met many of her friends at the club.
“MEMO is like a family away from home to me,” Le said.
Amanda Phan, co-president of MEMO and a fourth-year biology student, said the club gave her the opportunity to travel to Vietnam through its annual mission trips, where she learned about prevalent congenital heart disease. Mission trips involve visiting impoverished villages, orphanages and hospitals to provide additional volunteer support and supplies.
“I noticed a lot of people had hypertension or high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease,” she said. “We wanted to address that issue with this event.”
Nguyen said the club has helped improve health care and education in many local and international communities through its large network of students and physicians.
“In our work in Vietnam, we’ve been able to give more people the opportunity to live long and fulfilling lives,” Nguyen said.