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David Lawrence Community Service Awards: Van Tran, RN

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For more than a decade, the David Lawrence Community Service Awards have recognized outstanding Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians who support volunteer activities and initiatives that improve the health of communities. The annual award is named for David M. Lawrence, MD, former chairman and CEO of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan/Hospitals and a lifelong advocate for that cause.

Up to 2 awardees are selected in each region based on their contribution to improving the overall health of a specific community or population. Their commitments focus on health and social issues such as increasing access to health care for the underserved, eliminating disparities in health outcomes of racial and ethnic minorities, and addressing the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age that can affect their health.

The 2018 Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region winners are Van Tran, RN, and Ene George, MD. Each will receive a $10,000 charitable contribution from Kaiser Permanente to the nonprofit organization of their choice.

Nurse Van Tran shares skills, knowledge around the world as a medical missionary.

Since becoming a registered nurse in 2003, Van Tran approaches each day with the will to do her best – whether that is at Kaiser Permanente or in a remote part of the world.

Tran, house manager for the Patient Care Services Department at Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, shares her professional skills and knowledge both at home and as a medical missionary in countries such as Cambodia, Guatemala, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

“I am profoundly changed by these experiences,” she said. “I feel this was a significant part of why I became a nurse – to be able to provide care to people who truly need it the most.”

She began her medical missionary work by first traveling with nonprofits such as the International Red Cross. In 2015, Tran founded the nonprofit Venture to Heal Medical Missions, which has coordinated trips to Vietnam and the Philippines to provide health care, supplies, and education to thousands of people in rural communities.

Volunteers range from health care professionals to ordinary people with a spirit of community service.

“One of the main purposes of my nonprofit is to be able to encourage people with medical and nonmedical experience to share their gifts and talents,” she said. “You don’t have to be a medical provider to make a difference in people’s lives. You can make a positive impact just by being present with people and listening to their stories.”

So far, the dozens of volunteers with Venture to Heal have reached approximately 3,800 people in rural parts of Vietnam and the Philippines. The nonprofit offers health screenings – for diabetes and hypertension, for example – and education, along with training for clinic workers who often lack medical experience.

The group also leaves behind medical supplies so that residents can manage chronic conditions like high blood pressure. Each mission ends with a “kids’ day” that includes health education – such as the importance of hand and oral hygiene – and the teaching of safety skills, along with arts and crafts and games.

Smaller groups of volunteers return to the villages to follow up with residents, reinforce health education, and bring more supplies. In a repeat visit to a village in the Philippines last summer, volunteers saw that many residents had made lifestyle changes to manage chronic conditions.

"We have seen a drastic increase in the number of people who are now able to adequately control their high blood pressure and diabetes with the appropriate medications, education, and tools that we have given them,” Tran said. She counts that as one of the organization’s major accomplishments.

“What stays with people the longest is the health education that we provide,” she said. “They walk away with something that can be life-transforming for them.”

Tran invests roughly 500 hours each year in planning, organizing, and attending the medical missions. That includes recruiting and mentoring volunteers, clearing the missions with local governments, and arranging logistics such as lodging and transportation.

The first group of volunteers consisted mainly of Tran’s current and former co-workers, friends, and family. Now the circle has widened.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Tran said. “People are really inspired – they want to join and they want to make a difference.”

She said she felt honored and humbled just to be considered for the David Lawrence Community Service Award.

“Volunteering is an integral part of my daily life,” she said. “I feel like it is so important to be able to use and share the gifts, the education, and the talents you have been given.”

Read the story of the other 2018 awardee: Ene George, MD