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Featured Profile and Interview With Tom C. Nguyen, MD

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dr Tom C. Nguyen is an Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Director of Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.  A native Houstonian, Dr Nguyen received his undergraduate degree at Rice University in Houston, and later his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.  He then trained in general surgery at Stanford University in California, where he spent three years in Dr Craig Miller’s laboratory studying mitral disease in an ovine model.  Dr Nguyen undertook his cardiothoracic surgery training at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, followed by an advanced structural heart fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Dr Nguyen’s clinical interests involve complex valve surgery through small incisions, either via a minimally invasive 5 cm incision or through transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). He performs surgical AVR through a right anterior thoracotomy approach. Dr Nguyen lectures nationally and internationally, hosts a course for other surgeons to learn minimally invasive techniques, and is the Co-Director of the STS University Minimally Invasive Valve Course that will take place at the 2018 STS Annual Meeting. He is a member of the 2017-2018 STS/AATS Tech-Con Task Force, past president of the Thoracic Surgery Residents Association, previous member of the ACGME/RRC, and Associate Program Director of the MD Anderson/UT Houston cardiothoracic fellowship program.  His passion is teaching and education, and he has won numerous awards, including the Arnold P. Gold Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award and the Benjy F. Brooks Outstanding Clinical Faculty Award.  Additionally, he was a recipient of the Houston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award. Dr Nguyen was a prior Resident Editor of CTSNet and is now the Associate Editor for Adult Cardiac Surgery.

Claire Vernon for CTSNet: You are involved in educating both surgeons and patients about minimally invasive heart surgery, the former through your own course and the latter through the Minimally Invasive Valve Surgery website. Does your educational work influence who you are as a surgeon?

Dr Tom C. Nguyen: Education is my passion.  To be a good mentor and teacher, one must be willing to sacrifice with respect to time, energy, and ego.  This will spill into weekends and holidays, but for me, it’s worth it.  Both student and teacher should feel exhausted on occasion and sometimes exhilarated.  Teaching involves the art of communicating in a language that is understandable and digestible.  Some of the best surgeons are not good communicators and vice versa.  To be a good teacher, you need both [superior technical and communications skills]. 

CTSNet: During your residency, you volunteered as a surgeon in Asmara, Eritrea. What inspired you to be involved in this? Can you share your favorite story from that work?

TN: I am an immigrant and this word embodies my life philosophy.  I am who I am today NOT because I’m stronger or smarter than others, but because I’ve been given opportunity.  When we arrived in the United States, Vietnamese was my first language.  We spoke it loudly, easily filling a quiet room with complex tones and inflections.  I was enrolled in an English as a Second Language class and learned English by watching cartoons.  In fact, at the age of four, I chose my English name “Tom” from the cartoon “Tom & Jerry.”  As such, it’s natural that I have an obligation for international volunteerism.  Asmara, Eritrea, was an ideal location where there are three surgeons for a population of one million.  While in Asmara, I rode a bicycle 30 minutes each way to the hospital.  In a country were there aren’t many Asians, one of my fondest memories was being chased by children who thought I was Jackie Chan.

CTSNet: If you had a magic wand to create the next innovation in CT surgery, what would it be?

TN: If I had a magic wand, I’d ensure all surgeons learned minimally invasive valve surgery and TAVR.  It is the future.  The data is very compelling, with a plethora of studies favoring minimally invasive valve surgery over sternotomy.  It’s just as safe and effective as standard sternotomy, with documented benefits in transfusion rates, atrial fibrillation, length of stay, and recovery, but adoption rates remain low.  On the other hand, TAVR is here to stay, especially for high risk and, most likely, intermediate risk patients.  It is my belief that surgeons who are facile in complex open valve surgery, minimally invasive valve surgery through small incisions, and TAVR (including the transfemoral approach) have a competitive advantage in the treatment of structural heart disease.

CTSNet: What is your favorite thing about CTSNet?

TN: We live in an era where the most effective and dynamic way to disseminate information is via the internet. As such, CTSNet is the central destination on the web for cardiothoracic surgery videos and educational content, and the main gateway on the web to journal content and organization websites.  For me, it’s nice to have to remember only one URL that can link me to any CT-related content I need on the web.   And that’s


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