Thu Mai knows that many things in life are riddled with complexity. But the prospect of driving positive change in health care has inspired her to pursue a major in health services management through the U of M’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies.
“I’m very passionate about mission-driven work,” she says. “It’s about the end goal and getting there.”
Mai was born in Vietnam and lived there until the age of 12, when she and her family moved to Minnesota. The cultural shift was intense, though Mai and her sister were young enough to adjust to their new home. For their parents, it wasn’t as easy.
“My parents don’t speak English very well, so my sister and I handle a lot of the phone calls about health insurance,” Mai says. “The U.S. doesn’t have a perfect health care system, but compare it to other countries like Vietnam and you can see how lucky we are.”
Mai’s background has given her a unique perspective on cultural differences and health care systems. The inequalities she’s seen have motivated her to make a difference.
“When we moved to the U.S., my mom was able to get health care that she didn’t have in Vietnam,” Mai says. “I’m really interested in providing that access, especially to underrepresented communities.”
She knows health care is a daunting industry, but Mai is no stranger to challenges.
During her junior year in high school, she joined the Army Reserve National Guard--a six-year commitment. She hasn’t looked back.
“I figured I’d join the military as a way to explore. I love being spontaneous, I love a good challenge, and I love the unknown,” she says.
But Mai’s path has not been without a few bumps in the road. She grew up thinking she would be a doctor one day. It’s what her parents wanted for her.
“By my junior year, I realized I couldn’t do pre-med anymore. I was so depressed. I started taking business classes, and that’s how I found the [health services management] major.”
She has found the major to be a perfect blend of health care and business, pivoting her focus to administration, business, and health care policy. She also believes it will better enable her long-term goal of returning to Vietnam to start a nonprofit organization, run by women, that provides women’s health care.
It’s shaping up to be a busy year for Mai. She will complete her training with the National Guard in April, and in the fall she will complete her degree. Soon after, she’ll hit the books again.
“I’m planning on applying for a dual MHA (master of health care administration) and MBA here at the U of M,” she says.
See the original version of this story, found at the College of Continuing and Professional Studies.
-Photo of Thu Mai by Linda Peterson.