Who IS Sensei? #illumedati 6

Hi everyone, it’s Whatever Wednesdays again, and as promised, I’m here to talk about Who is Sensei?

Stock Photo from: Pexels

For those who have browsed my little blog, you may have found my About page, and there you can glean some information about me. There is even my picture on Doximity to those who clicked on it. However, for this new year, I’ve decided to be “less anonymous” instead of “pseudo anonymous”.

WARNING: This is a Monster Post…. like 2000 words.

So, pour some coffee, kick up your feet, and find out Who is Sensei?

Why “less anonymous”?

Well, a good friend of mine told me that while he liked my site, that it’s hard to trust a person without a face. He said that if he didn’t know me personally, he probably wouldn’t read/follow my blog since I didn’t seem real to him. I explained that on my About page there is a lot of information about me and there is picture of me on Doximity and such. He said that wasn’t enough.

As such, I’ve decided to be less anonymous this year. I’m going to try mix some pictures of me and my kids into posts. I think that should help people to see that I am a real, living, breathing human and not just some very high level AI.

I see, well can you tell me more about yourself then?

Well, a lot of this information is on my About page, but I can provide a little more of my life’s history for those interested. For those not interested, skip down to the next section.

So I was born Walter Dan Nguyen back in 1981 in Overland Park, Kansas. My first name comes from Walter Cronkite because my parents felt he was an upstanding American citizen. My middle name Dan (not Daniel) actually comes from Danh which is Vietnamese for “Famous” or “Presitigious”. However, my dad wanted me to have a “full American name” so they chopped off the h and made it “Dan.”

All my close friends like to refer to me as kid from Kansas or reference that Dorothy’s house fell on me, or something like that. However, the reality is that I only lived in Kansas for about a year. I moved to Dallas, Texas when I was about 1 year old. I spent 2 years in Texas, and then moved to Southern California when I was about 3 years old. As such, I have no memories of either Kansas or Texas, other than the pictures my parents show me.

My dad is/was a civil and structural engineer with a PhD and did a lot of contracting work and so he was traveling a lot when I was very young. My dad decided that he didn’t want to keep traveling around anymore because he had two kids now, my older sister (5 yo) and me (3 yo). He took a job in Southern California at California State University of Long Beach (CSULB), back in 1984. He’s been there ever since and he should be retiring soon. However, like I’ve said, he’s failed retirement a few times already. My mom has a bachelor’s of science in Chemistry and did some work at CSULB too when I was younger, but then transitioned into part-time teaching.

Where did you grow up in California?

I grew up in a small town in Southern California, Cypress. My first real memories aren’t until around I was maybe 3½ or 4 years old. There was a preschool near my house where I met my best friend, Peter. I was very lucky because despite moving everywhere for college, med school, residency, and fellowship, Peter and I have remained best friends.

I’m not sure if there is a term for it, but I could not talk to Peter for a months… but then just pick up the phone and be like, hey dude, I’m going to be home for Christmas, let’s hang out. We’d then talk, catch up and laugh like I never left. In fact, as I write this, he’s getting married in July and I definitely plan to be there, but we haven’t talked for a few weeks. I think Peter and I will just always be best friends, no matter where we are.

Now, about Cypress. As a little kid, Cypress was a little town “close to Disneyland”. While I was growing up, it was mostly strawberry fields and a lot of undeveloped land. Now it’s a completely developed city that has no more land to speak of. The town itself has changed significantly because it was mostly young families when I was growing up and there were 8 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and 1 high school.

I believe that now there is half as many elementary schools, because they have been shut down… including mine, Robert C. Cawthon elementary, which is now Grace Christian School. Of course, I went to the only middle school, Lexington Junior High and the only high school, Cypress High School. Looking back on it, they were both great schools.  I met a ton of great people growing up, although I’ve sadly lost touch with them over the years.

It’s also worth mentioning that Oxford Academy opened in 1998 which is a combined junior/high school. Although, not technically a magnet school, it has a pretty comprehensive entrance examination. From the Wikipedia:

“Entering seventh grade students can compete for 200 spots. These spots are divided among the 8 junior high schools in the Anaheim Union High School District, with admissions for 25 students from each corresponding school.”

So it’s a pretty competitive school. According to this article, its Average SAT score is 2040 and its AP test pass rate: 96.9%.That’s pretty impressive. My little brother (who is now in Pharmacy school) went there.

So anyways, that was kind of my childhood.

So… then what?

Then it was off to UC Berkeley (Cal) for undergraduate. Although I am certainly not that the stereotypical “fraternity boy” type, an opportunity came up to refound the Iota chapter of Sigma Pi with a bunch of other great guys. So a bunch of guys on my floor at Clark Kerr Campus and I joined as the Alpha class and the fraternity was refounded a few semesters later.

Looking back on it, UC Berkeley was a great experience. There were so many great people there who were just so, so smart. In the Alpha class, there are two MDs and 6 JDs. One MD is me, a radiologist, the other is a Gastroenterologist. Of the 6 JDs, I think only 4 of them practice law. The others leveraged their JD degree to do other things.

So, being at UC Berkeley taught me that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Organic Chemistry was the bane of my existence. It still haunts me to this day, there is a reflexive cringe when I hear it mentioned. For some reason, it just didn’t click with me, no matter how much I studied. Either way, I just couldn’t do well in OChem 1 and 2. This, combined with mediocre grades in the other pre-med requisites made my Science GPA around 3.2 and my overall GPA around 3.3. This was back in 2002, so my prospects for medical school were grim. I would need to kill the MCAT to have a shot. Fortunately, I did pretty well on the MCAT actually… but I didn’t kill it… at least not enough. I didn’t get into med school, and the rejections after rejections hurt.

So what did you do?

I was ready to start applying to Masters programs, retake some pre-med requisites, and/or retake the MCAT, but then my friend brought up the idea of going to a Caribbean Medical School. Now, I didn’t do enough research on this, or I probably wouldn’t have gone, at least not right away. However, this was an opportunity to move forward… and I took it. I would not recommend this as the first option.

Luckily, I was able to refocus my studies in medical school, and there was no Organic Chemistry to trip me up anymore. I did well in my classes and I did relatively well on Step 1. I was told that with my Step 1 score, I could have tried to transfer to a US school, which someone else in my class has already done. However, it would require me to sit out a year and maybe repeat some 2nd year classes. I was not a fan of repeating work and I just wanted to move forward. I also do not recommend this. In hindsight I should have transferred.

Despite a good Step 1 score, good recommendations, and good clinical grades, I was still from a Caribbean Medical School. You can read more about it here and here.

Long story short, I did get into a radiology residency… but just barely.

However, the real take home point of that whole era of my life is that I found someone who believed in me more than I believed in myself. I met my wife as 2nd year medical student in 2004, and we were apart for most of the 7 years leading up getting married in 2011. She is the love of my life and I would be only 1/10 of myself without her. She supports me in everything I do, although it may seem crazy to most… and well, she is a psychiatrist, so she should/would know.

So, on to residency?

Yup, now it was off to Staten Island University Hospital for my prelim medicine year. Once again, I met a lot of great people during my intern year, some of which I still talk to once in awhile. The year itself was pretty rough, but I learned a lot.

Then I moved on to Albany Medical Center for my radiology residency. Once again, I met a lot of great people who shaped how I am as a radiologist. I think it is important to understand the whole mentor-protegé relationship is not really the same anymore. There was no “one mentor” during my residency. It was more like baking a cake. You take two parts from Dr. Smith and 1 part from Dr. Jones and you incorporate them into yourself. So you are not Dr. Smith or Dr. Jones, you are you, but with their influences.

Then I moved on to University of Maryland Medical Center for my neuroradiology fellowship. My fellowship class there and I are still very close.Even though we’ve all kind of split to different corners of the US, we still update each other pretty much everyday. These guys keep me (mostly) sane.

My daughter, Kylie, was born during fellowship in May  in 2013. It’s hard to explain how you can love someone so much. My wife and I talked about this a bit:

Like, I love my wife with everything I have… but the love you have your children can not be quantified. Like you thought you loved your spouse as much as possible, but then when your children are born, you realize just how much you can love, and so you love your spouse and children that much more. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how it feels.

Ok… so then your first job then?

We moved to Rhode Island in 2013 where I took my first job and my wife took her first job in southern Massachusetts. Luckily, we only rented a small apartment, because our time in Rhode Island only lasted a few months. I started in July 2013, and my last day was in March 2014. I took my current job in Hawaii April 2014, while my wife stayed with her parents in New Jersey until June while I settled in. Sadly, I missed my daughter’s first birthday.

My wife and daughter joined me in June and my wife started working in August… and we’ve been working at those jobs ever since. My son, Lucas, was born September 2015 and it’s like I said before. You think you love as much as you can, but then this other little person enters your life… and you find more room.

We closed on our first home January 2016… and it’s January 2017, and we still haven’t completely moved in yet. The walls are still bare and there are things that I want to fix/renovate… but give me like 5 years, I will make it look people live here. However… my family makes this house a home.

Ok… so I came here for the picture, where is it?

Ok, ok, ok, here it is:

This is from Halloween 2016. That’s my daughter Kylie (“Lilo”), my son Lucas (“Stitch”), and me (“David”). My wife was “Nani”, and she took the picture.

Ok, the monster post is over… but hopefully everybody feels a little closer than me. I promise I’m not a bot.

Oh, by the way, my wife recently set up an Instagram account to chronicle my daughter’s adventures with her brother. She is @vietaliana on Instagram, and she is going to try to post a picture everyday. Shoot her a follow if you are an Instagram person. Any helpful tips are welcome.

Vietaliana = Vietnamese + Italian + Feminine



So… have I convinced you that I’m human? Let me know in the comments!

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