Balancing life as a researcher, Buddhist nun
Huong Nguyen’s multi-site research spans the United States, Thailand and Vietnam
October 25, 2022
Clinical Associate Professor Huong Nguyen is both a researcher and Buddhist nun. “When you see yourself clearly, then you can see other people as well. You see the root cause of the suffering and then you see the way out as well. So I stay in the temple for personal reasons and for research at the same time,” she says.
As a clinical associate professor at the School of Nursing, Huong Nguyen’s research focuses on reducing family caregiver stress and understanding the root cause of mental health disorders in order to develop an innovative therapy to treat them.
As a practicing Buddhist nun, Nguyen, PhD, MSW, MA, is also devoting her life to seeing her mind and body clearly.
“When you see yourself clearly, then you can see other people as well. You see the root cause of the suffering and then you see the way out as well,” says Nguyen. “So I stay in the temple for personal reasons and for research at the same time.”
Nguyen was born and raised in Vietnam, earning a bachelor’s degree in foreign trade economics from Hanoi Foreign Trade University. She later earned a master’s degree in mass communications from the University of Nebraska and a master’s degree and PhD in social work from the University of Chicago.
“I became the first person in post-war Vietnam with a PhD in social work,” says Nguyen. “To this day, the entire country still only has two or three people with PhDs in social work, so I am working with the Vietnamese government and different universities to train the very first generation of social workers, faculty and students, in Vietnam.”
Before coming to the University of Minnesota, Nguyen served as faculty in social work and religious studies at the University of South Carolina. There, she conducted multi-site research spanning the United States, Thailand and Vietnam, including areas of spirituality and religion in mental health, Buddhism-based psychosocial interventions in mental health, elder care, supporting family caregivers of elderly people with dementia and Buddhist social work. She has conducted ethnographic research at Buddhist temples in Vietnam and Thailand, and is currently working with caregivers of individuals with dementia in Vietnam.
Nguyen is serving as co-PI for the National Institutes of Health-funded research Advancing Alzheimer’s family caregiving interventions and research capacity in Vietnam, being conducted with Ladson Hinton, MD, professor and director of Geriatric Psychiatry at University of California at Davis.
The project is testing the efficacy of Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health in Vietnam (REACH VN), a culturally adapted family caregiver intervention shown in a pilot study to be feasible and promising in terms of preliminary efficacy. It is the first large-scale study to test the efficacy of a community-based family dementia caregiver intervention in Vietnam. Results from this study will inform efforts to widely deliver the REACH VN intervention or similar community-based family dementia caregiver support programs in Vietnam and other low- and middle-income countries.
“The aim of this research in Vietnam is supporting family caregivers to reduce stress and burden,” says Nguyen. “In Thailand, the aim of my research is to develop a new therapy that would treat mental health disorders at the root. The real goal of all my work is to make people happy, but to make people happy we have to really understand the root cause of happiness.”