The Catholic University of America

Timmy Le

Alum Discovers Global Perspectives in Medicine

“Eastern medicine is very much centered around yin and yang; the concept of balance,” says Catholic University graduate Timmy Le. He discovered a different sort of balance when he participated in a one-month volunteer program at the National Hospital of Acupuncture in Hanoi, Vietnam: the balance of cultures within medicine.

Le, who graduated from CUA just last year with a BS in Biochemistry, participated in an initiative last summer run through the organization Projects Abroad, an international program which provides volunteers for project sites around the world. He traveled to Vietnam, where he was placed in the pediatric cerebral palsy department at the acupuncture hospital.

While working in the program, Le learned the concepts and methods of Eastern medicine, which revolve around the idea of internal balance and view illness as a disturbance of the systems within our bodies.

While becoming acquainted with unfamiliar medicinal procedures, Le also learned the value of understanding the variety of approaches to medicine around the globe. “I think it’s vital for medicine to understand that different cultures have different ideas of normal,” said Le.

Serving as a volunteer increased the value of his experience, said Le. “I got to learn the stories of the kids I was working with,” Le said. “When you volunteer you’re not operating from a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality; you’re really focused on what you’re doing and the lives you’re changing.”

When asked if he would recommend this program to other students, Le nodded vigorously. “Everyone was so welcoming. It was such an amazing experience — you’re able to do so much with relatively little money and little time.”

Le was born with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that affects motor control in the patient’s legs. Having this personal experience with the condition helped him when working with patients in Vietnam and enabled him to bring personal recommendations and credibility to the discussions he had with families about treatment plans. “I feel that I can help patients not just with my medical knowledge, but with my life experience,” said Le.

His condition has also inspired him in his pursuit of a career as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, he said. Le notes that when he was undergoing treatment as a child, the role of a doctor was almost synonymous with that of a superhero. He also found encouragement from the example of his peers in the waiting room.

Upon encountering other kids with conditions similar to his in the hospital waiting room, Le recalled turning to his mother and declaring: “I don’t want to be a Power Ranger anymore; I want to be a doctor!”

Le, the son of first-generation immigrants from Vietnam, was strongly influenced by the culture and language of his household in Springfield, MA. Le discovered and selected the Projects Abroad program in Vietnam through his own initiative, inspired by his family’s traditional roots and the chance to immerse himself in Vietnamese culture while studying medicine.

His experience in Vietnam provided him with additional insight into a family’s perspective of having a child with cerebral palsy. Le said his personal experiences as well as his knowledge of the Vietnamese language were very helpful in building faster, more trusting relationships with patients and their families at the acupuncture hospital during a very difficult time for them. “The most important lessons I learned were the ones taught to me by my patients,” he said. “Their stories were the most valuable part of this experience.”

Le said he is confident that his time in this program will greatly benefit his future career in medicine as well as his own personal outlook. “This experience forced me to look beyond the Western culture I was used to and to see things from a different cultural perspective. I was able to learn how culture truly shapes medicine.” 

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Timmy Le

Hometown: Springfield, MA

Degree: B.S. Biochemistry, 2012

Favorite film: End of Watch

Favorite class while at CUA: Biochemistry

Favorite quote: "
Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one." -Bruce Lee