In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Hiep T. Nguyen, MD.
This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
"People criticize technology and say it costs too much or it's dangerous, but it is evolving, and we are evolving, and we can't be everywhere at once. Technology is essential to the evolution of medicine and the demands of healthcare."
Growing up in the small Nebraska town of Imperial, a refugee and immigrant from the Vietnam War, Hiep T. Nguyen, MD, says he felt like an alien. When the Star Wars movie series took off during his boyhood, Nguyen closely identified with Luke Skywalker's character, and loved science fiction, robotics, and technology, but he could never determine how to build a career from what he says became a "serious interest."
A force was also within Nguyen from a young age, a drive to give back to his community. Following his father's example, a general internist, Nguyen went to medical school at the University of California San Francisco, specializing in urology after his first rotation in pediatric urology. "It just always felt right, right from the beginning." During his residency, robots began to be used in surgery, and there was the merge Nguyen was looking for—science fiction became reality in the OR.
Far from feeling alien anymore, today Nguyen describes himself as "The Mad Hatter" of robotic surgery at Boston Children's Hospital, where he works as an attending urologist and the director of the Pediatric TeleUrology Service. As the director of the Robotics Surgery, Research, and Training Center, Nguyen coordinates the 40 or more robotic projects the department works on simultaneously.
"Ever since I came to Children's in 2004 as the director of robotic surgery, companies and people have come out of the woodwork wanting to talk and collaborate about doing more innovative things with technology and robotics and medicine," said Nguyen.