Alumnus Reaches Top of Medical School Class

Derek Nguyen BS'13, who earned his degree in biochemistry at UT Dallas, will graduate this spring from UT Southwestern Medical School with a 4.0 grade-point average.

A UT Dallas alumnus who is graduating at the top of his class at medical school credits his academic success to his learning experience as an undergraduate.

Derek Nguyen BS’13 is among a handful of students who earned a 4.0 GPA this spring at UT Southwestern Medical School. He will spend his medical intern year at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas before heading to Johns Hopkins Hospital for his four-year residency in radiology.

A Terry Scholar who earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Nguyen said the skills he acquired as an undergraduate at UT Dallas greatly helped his transition to medical school.

“At medical school, there’s a lot of independent learning and it’s up to you to synthesize it. UT Dallas prepared me for that. I learned to be proactive, to prioritize my time and to make a study schedule. Medical school was difficult, but my study skills transferred very well,” Nguyen said.

Blythe Torres, director of the Terry Scholars Program, recalled when Nguyen was admitted to the UT Southwestern Medical School.

“He was excited, humbled and looking forward to the challenge of attending a top-ranked medical school. I wasn’t surprised that he matched with Johns Hopkins’ top-ranked residency program in radiology,” Torres said. 

“I feel certain Derek will be successful in all of his future endeavors. This is a tremendous accomplishment and a proud moment for the Terry Scholars Program and the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College,” Torres said.   

Nguyen came to UT Dallas from Irving High School because he thought the University’s rigorous science programs and undergraduate research opportunities would help prepare him for a career in medicine.

“I knew they’d challenge me, and that a degree from UT Dallas would help catapult me toward my goals. Having a Terry Scholarship was a big draw, too. I wouldn’t be here without the help of my parents, family, friends and Mr. (Howard) Terry,” Nguyen said.

Dr. Paul Pantano, associate professor of chemistry and Nguyen’s undergraduate thesis advisor, praised Nguyen’s accomplishments at UT Dallas.

“Derek is one of the best-rounded, bright, inquisitive, caring, enthusiastic, respectful, and pleasant people I know. I cannot recall another undergraduate who does so many things so well, and who has accomplished as many things as he has in such a short time,” Pantano said. “I know he will continue to excel as he accomplishes what he has set out to do.”

Nguyen became familiar with the campus of UT Southwestern while still an undergraduate. As a junior, he spent a semester as a Green Fellow in the neuro-oncology lab of Dr. Robert Bachoo, associate professor of neurology and neurotherapeutics. Nguyen researched differentiation patterns of neural stem cells for possible therapeutic purposes.

As a Comet, Nguyen also was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi honor society in 2011. He also earned the President’s Volunteer Service Gold Award for helping organize service projects with the Terry Program and serving as a patient ambassador at Presbyterian Hospital. Interacting with patients and hearing their stories solidified his decision to pursue a career in medicine.

Nguyen would like to eventually work in mammography because he believes it would give him the most interaction with patients and other physicians.

“People always say that I’m so talkative, and then they ask why I would go into radiology and spend all of my time in a darkroom. For me, radiology at its core exists to provide direction to other physicians and aid them in making a definitive diagnosis. It is also one of the few specialties that embodies the true sense of teamwork, since radiology is consulted from every field in medicine,” Nguyen said.

He is looking forward to new challenges in the next phase of his medical training.

“In medical school, we are seeing patients, but we’re still working under someone else. Now we are the front lines. I find that humbling and a little scary,” he said.

Green Fellowship Program Opens Research DoorsAs Suna Burghul did in 2015, Green Fellows spend a semester working on research full time at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

As an undergraduate at UT Dallas, Derek Nguyen spent many hours conducting research. But as a junior in 2012, he went off campus for an entire semester to work full time in a lab at UT Southwestern Medical Center. 

The experience became part of a journey that culminated in Nguyen graduating at the top of his medical school class at UT Southwestern this year. 

His immersive research project was part of the Green Fellowship Program, a joint program between UT Dallas and UT Southwestern that each year places about 20 undergraduates in labs of faculty mentors at the medical center. Green Fellows take no classes for a semester while they devote their time to research and earn a stipend. 

“It was the first time I was involved in the lab for 40 hours a week, and I really saw what cutting-edge research at a medical institution was like,” Nguyen said. “As an undergrad, it’s both a humbling and eye-opening experience to see the integral cogs from the inside with everyone working together.” 

Nguyen earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UT Dallas in 2013 before pursuing medical studies at UT Southwestern. 

“Through the Green Fellowship, I saw the caliber of research being performed at UT Southwestern, and it really confirmed for me that this is a medical institution that I want to train at.” 

UT Dallas students are encouraged to apply for Green Fellowships in the fall for placement the following spring semester.

Green Fellowship

This year's class of Green Fellows will present their research to the UT Dallas and UT Southwestern communities at a poster session in May. The application deadline for the spring 2018 class is Oct. 18. Find more information on the Green Fellowship website.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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