Archive for February, 2016

Meet Dr. Mai-Phương T. Nguyễn, M.D.


Dr. Mai-Phương Nguyễn, Spring 2016

She is a lover of many things: chief among those are family, friends, food, stories and story-telling (in descending order). She actually is an avid traveler for the sheer purposes of finding new foods, related family and fascinating stories.

She is self-described as a “Tortilla:” ‘Yellow’ on the outside and to her core, her “alma” (soul) is “Chicana/Mexicana/Latina” such that she is spicy, her feet itch to dance to the Afro-Cuban beat of “La Vida Loca” and she mindfully savors the diverse flavors, music and zest of life! “Joie d’vivre” is in her familial genes.

By the way, tortillas are made from ground maíz … a staple in most indigenous cultures. When she graduated from UC-Irvine in 1991 (with a major in biology and a minor in Spanish Literatura), Mai-Phương volunteered to go to Pululagua, Ecuador to build latrines for the summer, under the auspices of the student leadership organization, Amigos de las Americas.  That’s where she first saw maíz grown in the Andes Mountains.  She will never forget how amazed she was by how the intimate “corn and beans” combo grew in such utter synchronicity.  Both plants symbiotically rely on each other to grow and survive the adverse conditions of  being so high in the mountains.  The beanstalks wrap and cuddle their way towards the heavens winding around the cornstalk; meanwhile, the sturdy cornstalk is deeply rooted in Mother Earth and smiles up to the skies, nurtured by the nitrogen provided by the beans.  One, without the other, would not be as strong or perhaps not even be able to live!  Ever since that idyllic summer of ’91, free from civilization as she knew it, living 15,000 feet above sea level among Ecuadorians with faces from another epoch in history, Mai-Phương has always has been in love with beans and tortillas! (Oh! But this narrator digresses…)

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A long time ago, in a land far away, she was uprooted from her birthplace: a tiny S-shaped country. Born in a time of War, Mai-Phương was blessed to be birthed in the majestic yet magical mountainside of Đà Lạt, Việt Nam. She was actually, literally born in the “Valley of Love” (aka Thùng Lũng Tình Yêu).

So even from birth, young Mai-Phương’s DNA was rooted in “Love.” And yet “Love” would be something she looked and yearned for however ethereal, however impermanent. It was this search for “Love” that took her around the world, in the most unsuspecting places and destinations. And everywhere Mai-Phương went, she would seek it: in places, faces, trees, birds, schools of fish, oceans, and mountains.

But for the longest time–as long as she could remember, that Quixotic quest for “love” always, somehow–was a bit out of reach.

So when it came time for her to decide, somewhere early in high school, (growing up in the suburbs of Metro Washington DC among international ambassadors’ and diplomats’ children) what she would pursue for her ‘life’s career,’ Mai-Phương did what every 15 year old does: she went to seek advice from her all-wise, quadlingual-wordsmith and worldly Papa Son.

When asked what did she like to do, Mai-Phương told wise Papa that she loved to write and tell stories. But she also thought she’d make a pretty good teacher because she was good at understanding complicated things and she liked helping her classmates understand those complex things. But what she enjoyed most was “helping people” and learn to speak their language. At a young age, she learned languages easily and read everything she could get her hands on.

After considering the battery of responses, her beloved Papa told her what she needed to do. He answered firmly and unequivocally: “You must become a doctor!”

“A doctor!?” she inquired, puzzled at her beloved Papa’s matter-of-fact reply. “How ever did he come up with that suggestion?”

And to this, her father replied bluntly, “Well, after you study long and very hard and go through the very difficult and LONG journey to become a doctor, you can travel, you can write whatever stories, speak whatever languages you wish and you can teach to your heart’s content. But the MOST important thing you can do for yourself and for your family’s honor, is you can help people–especially poor or less fortunate people live better lives, my precious darling!”

That conversation was in the Orwellian year of 1984–thirty-two years ago. And since that conversation, there have more days than she can remember in which she wished she had NOT listened to her father’s sagely advice. So many horrifically hard and painful days of bearing witness to extreme inhumanity to those most vulnerable: From the extreme gang violence in 1992 during and following the explosive days of the Los Angeles Riots when she had to (at times unsuccessfully) resuscitate young black, brown and yellow-skinned boys, bruthas, sons and fathers riddled with bullet holes in their hearts and through their bowels; to the extreme poverty of Madras, India while studying Rural and Community Health at the prestigious Christian Medical School in fourth year medical school; followed by her first fact-finding trip back to her quê-hương (homeland) before graduating USC-Keck School of Medicine in 1995 where she saw for the first time victims of Agent Orange with Aliens-from-another-planet-like macro-hydrocephaly and more than five digits on each hand…and then there were the many, many orphans from a war that was fought two decades earlier, that she met at orphanages run by Catholic nuns along the Highway 1 that tethered this snake-like S-shaped former homeland.

In her final year of Internal Medicine residency at the UCLA-Sepulveda VA program, she pursued yet another ‘away rotation’ for two months on the Indian Reservation of Zuni Nation, New México. There, she saw the same diseases afflicting Native-Americans that she witnessed in the developing nations of Central and South America and SE Asia where she had traveled as a young doctor. Native Americans who had been displaced for generations were being subjected to unspeakable living conditions, as they were forced to live on reservations situated on some of the most arid and unforgiving lands of this rich nation–a divided nation which had become her beloved naturalized, second homeland.

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She came to learn that there were so many more ancient rituals and traditions of Healing. Her conscience was stirred by the lack of opportunity and the GRAVE inhumanity of old U.S. domestic policies toward Indigenous People of the Americas. These antiquated colonial policies from two centuries ago were still imposing dire ripple effects upon their well-funded healthcare system run by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). Despite the ‘comprehensive healthcare’ offered, the social, economic and political disparities in that part of the ‘forgotten world’ seemed insurmountable. From the “food deserts” in the deserts of the Four Corners and the prevalent domestic violence born of genetic predispositions of alcoholism, diabetes, and obesity to the vast wasteland of impoverished lack of opportunity for education and self-care, training at the Zuni Comprehensive Healthcare Center was yet another eye-opener for a disillusioning Dr. Mai-Phương.

Then came two more trips back to Northern Vietnam on medical missions with Project Việtnam Foundation headed by Drs. Quỳnh and Chẩn Kiều in 1998, 2002. From massive natural disasters, like the direct relief mission she went on after Hurricane Mitch in Honduras; to surviving two super typhoons on Guam that left her then Pacific Island home without water or power for weeks from 2002-2003; from the mundanity and banality of classism, poverty and racism and poor access to healthcare and health insurance in the bowels of East Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley where she trained and worked for the first 10 years of her career–all too many times, Dr. Mai-Phương wanted to be anything else but a “Doctor.”

But as much as she tried to ‘run away’ from home, and run away from the practice of medicine, the universe would NOT set her free. In 1999, she even tried to run away to Plum Village (Làng Mai) in the South of France at the dawn of Y2K new century, and offered to shave her hair and become a nun in order to serve humanity under the guidance of her beloved Sư Ông, the Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh.  However, $150,000.00 USD in student-loan debt and clearly trained to do something else, Thầy Nhật Hạnh declined to let her become a nun in his monastery–to join the beloved nuns and monks who had incubated her into the new century.

By the New Year 2000, she had worked as an associate clinical professor for LA County-USC in one of its comprehensive healthcare centers, followed by two years of working for Kaiser Permanente-SoCal and Healthcare Partners in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. When she literally could not ‘see her future’ as a doc-in-the-box of mandatory 20 minutes time slots (whether the patient was 22 or 92 years old), Dr. Mai-Phương wanted nothing to do with staying on the ‘treadmill’ of 21st century medicine.

And yet, it would take almost twenty more years until she could figure out her sustainable path in medicine from that initial ‘career consultation’ with her Papa Son in 1984.  From 2001-2004, she ran away again–this time, to the tropical Pacific Island of Guam, to fall back in love with the “art of medicine.”  Seven thousand miles from home, in the strategic area that is where “America’s Day Begins,” Mai-Phương’s clinical acumen and skills were sharpened as she had to really learn to practice excellent clinical medicine.  Everyday, she would encounter complex Pacific Islander patients with greater vulnerabilities to terrible diseases as a result of genetic predispositions to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or infections living out in the tropics.  That, coupled with higher risk behaviors and cultural norms like high rates of smoking, a very rich diet, heavy with grilled and BBQ meats and few fresh vegetables, Dr. Mai-Phương had her work cut out for her.

The salvation of her career came when she took a 2-year job on Guam, with the HMO PacifiCare-Asia Pacific which was a former FHP and Talbert Medical Group affiliate, whose parent headquarters was based in SoCal.  She then opened her first solo private practice in 2004 but quickly closed it down when she realized that she would not likely remain in Guam for 5-10 years to see the fruits of her arduous labor come to blossom.  In 2004-2005, she returned to Orange County and resolved to pursue her Masters of Public Health.  She got accepted to Harvard and UCLA and chose the UCLA Executive Program for Health Professionals.

B52_Emmy_Duc_n_ MP_5.17.09Concurrently, she was offered a solo private practice in her dream area of Napa and she jumped at the opportunity to ‘make it’ as her own boss in private practice–it was the ONLY healthcare delivery system she had not yet tried. She and her new husband, filmmaker Đức H. Nguyễn, managed to run a thriving solo practice for 6 years, doing ‘whatever was necessary’ to
make her dreams come true.

(In the interim, director Đức and Mai-Phương funded and produced 2 award-winning documentary films about Vietnamese Boat People and won 2 Emmy Awards to boot… but again, this narrator digresses.)


At “advanced maternal age or AMA” of 41 years, Đức and Mai-Phương birthed their first child, during the Great Recession.  New, older parents Mai-Phương and Đức unfortunately, came to the harsh realization that their “Karuna Healthcare” clinic in Napa was not sustainable.  For with a newborn baby in tow, during middle age, Mai-Phương literally was no longer able to work the obligatory 80-100 hours per week to maintain her robust outpatient, inpatient and community health services.  She had to come to terms that ‘her dream come true’ private practice was becoming yet another nightmare.  Finally in 2011, they relocated once again to Orange County, to be closer to immediate family and extended ‘villagers’ of long-time arts and community activist-friends in Little Saigon-Orange County, to help them raise their son.

In Little Saigon-OC, Dr. Mai-Phương would go on to work in a small group private practice for 4 years.  Later, she also served concomitantly part-time in a community health clinic from 2014-15, to fulfill her mission of serving the underserved.  She then became Chief Medical Officer of that Southland Health Center, when it garnered much-coveted Level III Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) and it’s newly minted Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) status.  In the short time that she served as CMO, she garnered a grant from the College of American Pathologists to provide highest caliber Women’s Health services to indigent or under-insured women called “See Test Treat.*” (See article below Người Việt–the largest and oldest Vietnamese language newspaper in the free world.)

Under her leadership, Southland Health Center also hosted two community health fairs within 6 months to screen and identify patients at high risks for diabetes, osteoporosis, breast cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc.  Dr. Mai-Phương enjoyed very much being able to apply her hard-earned community and public health expertise, along with her Public Relations and mass media skills, in the service of those most in need.

Back in her ethnic community, Mai-Phương applied her many talents in languages, public speaking and mass media outreach.  She dared to tackle her fear of not owning her mother tongue and convinced in-language Việt Nam California Radio (VNCR 106.3FM) to allow her to spearhead a community health and patient empowerment program called Sức Khỏe và Bạn (SKVB) aka To Your Health, Friends, from 2012 to 2014.  This was in direct response to the roll out of the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) which she knew in her many years as minority health advocate, would transform how healthcare would be delivered.

Dr. Mai-Phương knew early on that the well-intended ACA (which was designed to ‘even the playing field’ for minority patients), would be difficult to implement in communities of color, especially for patients who were Limited English Proficient (LEP).  By 2013, her SKVB radio healthcare program would win the 2013 New America Media Award for Outstanding Broadcast Journalism for its 6-part series called The ACA and You! which broke down the ACA into bite-sized tutorials to teach LEP patients about the essential parts of the new healthcare law.  Today, she is considered a bonafide ‘healthcare journalist and consultant’ to whom the San Francisco-based New America Media turns to, whenever they host press conferences or community health forums in Southern California.


Though her career was stable and she had adequate time to volunteer and be present for her now, 5 year old toddler son, something deep within her yearned to be ‘free’ of working in others’ treadmills and being still a “PCP: aka Primary Care Peasant” to third-party payors and catering to other’s rules.  Deep in her conscience, she longed to be ‘free’ to do medicine better–and to apply her many skillsets and talents.


With faith in herself and the universe, Dr. Mai-Phương embraces the Year of the “Fire” Monkey with grace and gratitude.

But the GOOD news?  In this #Herstorical year of 2016, aka the “Year of  Fire Monkey,” Dr. Mai-Phương has figured out a magical formula wherein her “love” of the art of healing and the practice of medicine–in this fast-paced and fractured Made in the USA healthcare system–can be married with her love of teaching, her commitment to service and her passion for storytelling. Soon, she will be able to combine ALL these loves and write her greatest life chapter to date.

That chapter, friends, is called Karuna Healthcare Consultants, Inc. (KHC). Comprised of four service lines, through KHC, Dr. Mai-Phương will be able to continue her work of caring compassionately and conscientiously for all patients; teaching (her patients, pre-medical and medical student-mentees as well as young physicians-in-training) how to refine their craft as healers; meanwhile producing quality-content, in-language programs for radio, television and social media to help Educate. Empower. Elevate. and Entertain at-risk patients to lead healthier lives and become better healthcare consumers.

KHC biz-card.2.12The best part of this new chapter is that she will be doing it on her terms, as the CEO and CMO of her new, healthier, balanced life. For in this new chapter, Dr. Mai-Phương will be able to actualize ‘Self-Love’ as much as ‘Love for others’–a lesson that has taken her over twenty years to learn.


Having found a like-minded core group of highly-trained, deeply compassionate and conscientious colleagues, she is proud to introduce her opus magnum into the world.  Presenting, the Karuna Healthcare Consultants, Inc. Team comprised of Dr. Mai-Phương (internist), Dr. Jacob Huỳnh Duy-Linh, MD (Family Practice, Hospice and Palliative Care specialist who is licensed in acupuncture) and Dr. Tony Nguyễn Vũ Thụy, PharmD who trained at UCSF.  Pharmacist Tony owns the independent, state-of-the-art, compound Value Rx Pharmacy located on 22 Odyssey Lane in Irvine, California, adjacent to the Hoag Hospital-Irvine and Kaiser outpatient office buildings.  (Please refer to their individual blogs to learn more about their incredible paths to karuna healthcare.)

Value Rx Pharmacy provides highest quality, personalized pharmacy services.  They can home or office-deliver patient’s medications within 3 hours of receiving the physician’s e-Rx.  They also “bubble-pack” medications for seniors who take complicated medication regimens or suffer from dementia, to improve patient compliance and decrease medication errors.

You can now “see” Dr. Mai-Phương and her colleagues at Karuna Healthcare Consultants in 1 of 3 ways:

In person in their traditional physician’s office at Advanced Health & Wellness Center located a 7901 Westminster Boulevard in Westminster, CA 92683.   Please call 1-(844) KARUNA-0 or (844) 527-8620 to make an appointment.

If you are home-bound, disabled or terminally ill, she and Dr. Jacob Huỳnh Duy-Linh can make “house-calls” to see you in your homes, Board & Care or Nursing Homes.

And lastly, via telehealth consults on your desk top or laptop computer, if equipped with a webcam, powered by http://www.RealTimeClinic.com.  Step into her personal virtual waiting room here: https://realtimeclinic.com/provider/dr-mai-phuong-nguyen-md-2/.  

To learn more about Karuna Healthcare Consultants’ team members and services, check out these multi-lingual videos (in English, Việt and soon to be added Espanol!)

English:  https://vimeo.com/159015971

Vietnamese:  https://vimeo.com/159015760  

Spanish: under productions, soon to be released in late March, 2016.

Later in March 2016, www.Karuna-Healthcare.com will launch to give you a plethora of information about KHC’s growing products and services.  Also, KHC is finalizing their many partnerships with  community-based organizations including Home Health and Hospice agencies, community outreach, education and support groups and special Adult-Day Care programs.  Check back soon to see all the exciting news that will unfold later this spring and summer 2016!


Professional photograph courtesy of Tanya Nga Trương (T.N.T. Photography) and Dr. Mai-Phương’s archives of travel and adventures.





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