Alumnae Voices: On and Off the Beaten Path
Featured Alumna: Cristy Nguyen '95


An Interview by Jane Viner '05                    October 28, 2002

The voice of Dartmouth alumna, Cristy Nguyen ('95), is one that young women in science should listen to -particularly women interested in health care who are not sure exactly what path to follow. Cristy's fascinating journey from Dartmouth into the "real world" is varied, even though she is just a '95! Cristy did not adhere to a conventional course, rather she created her own. She was, and is, not afraid to change her life as her dreams evolve. Already her ambitious, innovative career in health care has given her insight that young women can benefit from. I was fortunate enough to interview Cristy and discover how she grew from a pre-med biology major at Dartmouth College, into public health policy developer, researcher, and consultant, into her present position as a student at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She explained how her varied interests and growing dreams brought her to where she is today.

Cristy’s interest in science sprang from her experiences in high school, where her intention to pursue medicine compelled her to take many science classes. She expresses her gratitude for the support she received early on, saying, “I was lucky to have had some great teachers.” Her positive initial experiences encouraged Cristy to pursue science in college. Like many freshmen, Cristy came to Dartmouth with the conviction that she wanted to be pre-med. She chose to major in biology because it seemed to her to be the “natural choice.” She says, “In retrospect, I would have to say that not much thought went into my decision at that point.” Despite her somewhat arbitrary decision to major in biology, Cristy made the most of her Dartmouth education. She explored many other areas of academia, and discovered a particular interest in environmental studies.

After three years pursuing the pre-med tract, Cristy realized that becoming a medical doctor was not what she wanted to do. Cristy began to reconsider her studies of public health from the ethics and policy courses she had taken from the environmental studies department. These classes approached sciences from a more interdisciplinary perspective, which led Cristy to consider, “the impact that public policy can have on the health of an individual (whether it be Medicare or Medicaid programs, welfare reform, or clean air standards).” The message she got from her environmental studies classes enlightened Cristy to the many health care careers outside of practicing medicine. When asked what other experiences at Dartmouth motivated her, Cristy responds, “I would have to say that my participation in WISP was probably the most influential science-related activity.” Cristy states, “My interactions through WISP taught me that being a “Woman in Science” doesn’t limit you to being a physician or doing research behind a bench (although both of these are noble and rewarding options).” Cristy values her experience with WISP because she “met many successful women who were using their knowledge of science in a variety of interesting and creative ways.”

Following college graduation, Cristy went to the Yale School of Public Health for a two-year program. There she learned about disease epidemiology, international health, health economics, and policy analysis. She began her career in health policy by working in the office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, where she gained first-hand experience shaping national health legislation. She continued her public health work at the Center for Disease Control, where she evaluated the cost and effectiveness of public health programs in the area of HIV, STD, and TB prevention. After working in the public arena for a few years, Cristy decided to gain some experience in the private sector of health care. She became a consultant for a private research and consulting firm that advised hospitals on strategic and operational issues. This position made it clear to Cristy that, “there are many different stakeholders in American health care. Each has its own set of issues, yet their fates are all interconnected.” Cristy’s varied experiences in the “real world” helped her determine exactly how she wanted to be involved in the American health care system. She chose to continue her involvement in the business sector and has gone back to school to “gain a different set of skills, which are necessary in my chosen path.” She is now attending Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Cristy appreciates the knowledge and experiences she gained at Dartmouth because, as she says, “My college experience definitely impacted my career choices.” Her experiences in the working world taught her that, “Life is too short to have a career that doesn’t inspire you and make you want to get out of bed in the morning.” Cristy also credits the importance of living one’s life outside of work. Though her life in business school is hectic, she says, “I am most passionate about maintaining and nurturing my relationships with my family and friends.” Her advice on balancing life is to “really prioritize how you use your free time.” When asked the loaded question, “What would you have done differently in your career, ‘had you known’?” Cristy responds, “I wouldn’t change anything about my career because it has taught me so much and brought me to where I am today.” The way she sees it, “You can’t change the past, but you can learn from mistakes and use that knowledge to make better decisions in the future.” Cristy prefers to ask, “Is there anything I would change in my career/life right now or in the future that would make me a happier person? If the answer is yes, then do it!” Cristy is not afraid to ask questions and make changes to improve her happiness. Her courage and ambition are inspirational to young women seeking their place in the world.

Cristy offers encouragement about the opportunities available: “There are so many opportunities open to you as a woman in science – a whole host of different careers, different industries, different functions. Actively seek out these opportunities and find the one that best fits your own interests, values, and talents.” If you are interested in contacting Cristy to ask her about her experiences in health care, you can reach her via e-mail at cristy.nguyen@duke.edu. For more information about curricular options, extracurricular activities and the process of applying to graduate programs in various health care related fields, you can also access the Health Professions Advisory Committee (HPAC). This resource is composed of faculty, administrators and students from across the Dartmouth campus, and provides information and support. HPAC’s website is:
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nss/nav/pages/advice/%2705%20Premed.html

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