Reflecting on APIDA Heritage Month: Christine Dang-Vu

June 13, 2023

APIDA Heritage Month is a time to celebrate and recognize the many first-generation folks in America who are here because our families were fleeing challenging situations. The generations preceding us experienced and overcame a great deal of adversity – and now, we have the opportunity to champion our culture and carry on their legacy not only during the month of May but every single day, both at our jobs and in everything we do.

Profile photo for Christine Dang-VuEight years ago, I was looking for a professional change. I was ready to get my hands dirty and tackle the ever-complex question I still ask myself each day: Why is health care reform so hard? And like the adage goes, you have to be good, and you have to be lucky – and that’s exactly how I felt about the opportunity I received at Aledade.

Aledade was very young at the time, and to be completely honest, I don’t think I knew what Aledade really was when I joined – and Aledade was still figuring itself out as well. But things started to click pretty quickly – on one hand, we were working on developing accountable care organizations, which I was familiar with from my think tank experiences, but on the other hand…something I didn’t realize was that our co-founders Farzad Mostashari and Mat Kendall, created Aledade to directly support people and professionals just like my parents. Aledade provided data, workflows, aligned incentives, policy leadership, payer advocacy and more – key components to succeeding in this phase of health care reform that my parents lacked. My dad was an independent primary care physician (PCP) – and as his daughter, I never fully realized or appreciated just how important of a role he (and other independent PCPs) played in terms of being able to not only provide care but to serve under-resourced populations.

My mom and dad are both Vietnamese refugees. My mom came over to the U.S. in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, and my dad came six years later. While my dad was already a doctor, he couldn’t practice medicine when he got here – he ended up having to do his training all over again. My mom, who was a pharmacist, was initially the primary breadwinner so my dad could prepare to be a doctor here studying for his qualifying exams. While working as an orderly at the hospital, someone took notice of him and offered him a residency in New York. Then, around my fifth birthday, my parents moved west and opened their practice in Oakland, California, where my dad was the physician and my mom the office manager of their modest yet busy practice for the next 33 years. They predominantly served other Vietnamese refugees, many of whom had lower incomes and didn’t necessarily speak English as their first language. As a primary care physician, my dad had all types of patients, and it was unsurprising for generations of families to come for their check-ups. He even had a few that had been with him for all 33 years of practice!

My dad’s practice was a central part of growing up. My brother and I were well aware of my parents’ commitment to their patients – which naturally included long working hours and frequently bringing work home with them – and when we were off from school, we’d often happily go to the “office” with them and try to help run patient eligibility checks or alphabetize charts.

My parents’ commitment to not only our family but to the community they both built and cared for shaped me in many ways. Their practice was such an integral part of our lives, and the patient stories that we heard both from my parents as well as the patients themselves when they’d stop my dad as we walked through Oakland’s Chinatown…they’ve stayed with me.

Now, as Chief of Staff to our CEO at Aledade, those stories energize and influence my day to day. My job is to help figure out how we and the independent primary care physicians we work with can thrive while minimizing costs, maintaining quality and providing the best possible care. In a way, I’m continuing the next chapter of my parents’ story. And every day – especially reflecting on APIDA Heritage Month – I feel grateful for the bond between my personal and professional lives, and it's an honor to be a part of supporting the next generation of independent primary care.