Among Kim Tran’s childhood memories are glimpses of appointments at a Minneapolis community clinic: the kid magazines in the lobby, the cartoon stickers and the dental hygienist who chatted with Tran’s family in Vietnamese.
Tran says her experience at the University of Minnesota’s Community-University Health Care Center, or CUHCC, planted the idea of a career in health care.
“What amazed me was that people stopped and listened and cared about my family’s needs,” she said.
Tran returned as a resident in the U’s pharmacy program in 2014. Last fall, she landed a position on the clinic’s staff, whose members speak about a dozen languages.
As safety net clinics nationally have come under intense pressure to improve patient care, places like CUHCC have sought to hire staff who more readily connect with their diverse patients. These clinics rely on public subsidies such as Medicaid, but they also tout their ability to ward off costly ER visits. The U is seeking $3.25 million in recurring funds for CUHCC and a rural dentist program.
Tran’s family of five arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, when she was 5. They were resettled in Minnesota under a program for South Vietnamese persecuted and imprisoned by the Communist regime after the war.
Tran’s parents spoke no English and leaned heavily on their north Minneapolis church, where the pastor took them grocery shopping after Sunday mass. A church friend told them about CUHCC, and the family started taking the bus to the south Minneapolis clinic. A few years later, they drove there from their new home in Brooklyn Park.
They liked that the clinic was a one-stop shop that didn’t turn any patients away. Besides offering medical, dental and mental health services, clinic staff made food shelf referrals and handed out bus tokens.
When Tran returned as a pharmacy resident years later, the lobby had been remodeled, but the friendly, casual vibe remained.
Dr. Roli Dwivedi, the center’s medical director, says Tran’s experience as a patient helped her ease right into her rotation. One of her patients, who struggled with alcohol addiction and homelessness, kept leaving his diabetes medication behind as he moved from place to place. Tran set up weekly appointments to ensure he was taking his meds — a change that helped bring his blood sugar down.
“She knew really well what kinds of services we offer and how we go beyond our duties to help patients,” Dwivedi said.
Research has shown that a shared language and culture between patient and provider translates into better outcomes, Dwivedi notes. At the center, which serves a low-income, diverse, largely immigrant population, more than half of staff members are people of color.
In November, several months after her residency, Tran started a part-time job at the center. She’s launched a project to increase the rate of pneumonia immunization. One approach was informed by her experience as a patient: Ask a lot of questions about patients’ backgrounds and listen carefully.
“That feeling that I am heard and cared for — I want to give that to my patients,” Tran said.