Friends keep triple threat doctor’s dreams alive

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Dr. Paul Tran had a passion to improve medical education in his native country

Dr. Thai “Paul” Tran was a triple threat: a great physician, educator and researcher.

“It’s hard to get people to be good in all three of those things,” said Dr. Robert Muelleman, chair of the department of emergency medicine at UNMC.

But beyond that, Tran had a dream. He wanted to return to his home in northern Vietnam someday and teach the U.S. approach to graduate medical education at a university there.

Tran was awarded a grant from the Vietnam Education Foundation to do just that, and he was well on his way. But he became ill and passed away in 2012, and the grant was revoked.

Thanks to his friends, though, Tran’s dream is still alive.

Dr. Michael Wadman, vice chair of education in the department of emergency medicine, and Thang Nguyen, the department’s research nurse, resubmitted and were awarded the grant once again to continue Tran’s work.

Tran had immigrated to the United States from northern Vietnam in 1975 as a high school student, knowing little English. He went on to college and received a degree in chemical engineering before going on to medical school. In 1994, he arrived in Nebraska as a faculty member in the UNMC department of emergency medicine.

“Every country’s medical system is unique, and theirs is unique and very different in many ways than the United States’ educational system,” Muelleman said about Vietnam. Tran’s goal wasn’t to start a residency program in Vietnam, but to share U.S. educational methods.

In November, Wadman and Muelleman, along with Dr. Wesley Zeger of UNMC, visited Thai Binh Medical University to conduct an onsite teaching trip through the VEF grant.

They spent about a week lecturing to university students, leading discussions and introducing American medical education techniques, such as emergency ultrasound concepts using an ultrasound simulation machine.

“Simulation skill labs are currently not widely used in medical education in Vietnam, so the faculty and students were greatly appreciative of the opportunity,” Nguyen said. “This was exactly what Dr. Tran wanted to do. He wanted to do more than just come and lecture; he wanted to foster change that had a rippling effect.”

After the initial visit to Vietnam, various faculty members and residents from the department of emergency medicine set up weekly teleconferencing sessions to continue teaching American concepts to those Vietnamese students. The follow-up trip to Vietnam in January concluded the course, and the curriculum for the second visit was focused on procedural skills.

Feedback from the Vietnam Educational Foundation regarding the trips was positive, Muelleman said.

“Many of the projects go to other parts of Vietnam, and they had some others in Thai Binh, but they thought ours was by far the best.”

Said Nguyen: “We all knew Dr. Tran as someone who liked to dream big, and this one project would not have been enough for him. For this reason, we decided to apply for the VEF grant again this year to continue our knowledge exchange with Vietnam. Our scope for the second grant is much larger: We plan to continue our work with the medical students while having a team of nurse educators accompany us to focus on nursing education in Vietnam.

“We are all hoping our second grant proposal is approved so that we can continue fulfilling Dr. Tran’s dream.”

Because scholarship was important to Tran, a lectureship fund was created to honor his memory, with a goal of raising $100,000 to bring educational speakers to UNMC.

It has been about a year since the fund was created, and roughly half of the desired amount of donations has been collected.

“It’s a continued effort,” Muelleman said.

Dr. Jeff Kline, the vice chair for research at the Indiana University Department of Emergency Medicine and expert in pulmonary embolism, has agreed to be the first speaker in the lectureship series.

The first lectureship will mark the 20th year since Tran’s arrival at UNMC, as well as the 10th anniversary of the creation of the university’s residency program. These events will tie in with UNMC’s residency graduation to honor Tran’s work at the university.

“What struck me about Paul, which is unique of many faculty members, is that he liked to talk about anything, not just medicine,” Muelleman said. “He often wanted to engage in conversations about politics, philosophy, religion, art, and was a very renaissance kind of person.”

From the United States to Vietnam, Tran’s involvement in emergency medicine education is undeniable. But there is one little thing that Muelleman appreciated about him just as much as his lasting effect on medicine.

“He always had a smile on his face.”

Faculty Support and Global Engagement are two priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. If you would like to help continue the dream of Dr. Thai Paul Tran, please consider giving online to the Thai Paul Tran, M.D., Lectureship in Emergency Medicine Fund at UNMC or contact the foundation at 800-432-3216.

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