I recently received an email from Vinh Chung, MD, a dermatologist in Colorado Springs, CO, that told a beautiful and inspiring story about how he finds joy in the practice of dermatology every single day.

Dr. Chung was born in South Vietnam, just eight months after it fell to the communists in 1975. His family lost everything and in 1979 they joined the “boat people” and sailed into the South China Sea.

That is where this story starts. At a time when many dermatologists are fed up with government regulations that put paperwork before patients, feeling suffocated by medical school debts, and/or in fear of a second wave of the coronavirus, Dr. Chung remains optimistic about the future.

He speaks below about how he remains positive and shares pearls for how the rest of us can do the same.

Remember where you came from

“At one point, we were all vying to get into medical school and then vying to land a coveted dermatology residency spot. Your 22-year-old self would probably be baffled at the concept of physician burnout. Yet, we do become discouraged and burnt out because we are so intensely focused only on the immediate and urgent issues at hand. We must periodically step back and reflect on the full trajectory of our paths. When we do, we will be overwhelmed with gratitude.

I will always be grateful to my mentors at Emory who invested in me and taught me the skills to become a Mohs surgeon.

I will always be grateful to Harvard for giving me an education when all I could afford was a one-way bus ticket.

I will always be grateful to my teachers who spent extra time with me when I struggled with English.

I will always be grateful for the freedoms I have in this country and the kind neighbors who welcomed my family when we arrived as refugees.

When we focus only on what is in front of us, we forget about how far we have come, and we can forget to feel gratitude. When we neglect to experience and express gratitude, we may sacrifice joy.”

Find a mentor, Be a mentor

“My father was a laborer in a factory that manufactured air conditioners. I was the first one in my family to enter the field of medicine. I knew nothing about medical school, residency, or fellowship. I was very fortunate that during medical school I stumbled across a Mohs surgeon who took me under his wings. It was through this relationship that I transitioned from the vague ‘wanting to help others’ to understanding what helping others would actually look like.

Part of finding joy is to connect with someone who is one or two steps ahead of you and have these conversations that offer glimpses of the future. Mentors can show us what is possible and give us the courage to dream. I believe that people feel burned out because they feel trapped by the present. When you feel burned out, find someone you can dream with, then take actions.”

Be the Captain your ship

“The locus of control that determines our sense of joy and wellbeing must exist within us, not outside. The world will always change, whether it’s COVID-19 or any of the numerous healthcare regulations. What happens to Medicare is not within my control, but how I treat the patient in front of me is within my control. Don’t be a victim to your circumstances. The future is still to be written, so don’t let it go to waste. If your employer is not holding to their end of the bargain, you should do everything you can to change the situation. If there is no possibility of change, then you can start your own path. When I couldn’t find a job after my fellowship 11 years ago, I started my own practice. It was risky and scary, but it does not compare to the decision my parents made when they packed up their children in a boat and left Vietnam. Whenever I feel afraid, I always remind myself that my family has enough to eat and a place to call home.”

Dr. Chung’s memoir Where The Wind Leads is available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide. vchung@vanguardskin.com