John Harvard's Journal | Harvard Portrait
Giang Nguyen had just taken up his new position as executive director of Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) in November 2019 when the pandemic broke out. With a background in public health and two decades spent addressing health inequities, he was well prepared for the fault lines that COVID-19 exposed. Born in Saigon to Vietnamese parents who came to the United States as refugees, Nguyen studied public health as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins, training that has proved “handy on many different occasions.” Before coming to Harvard, he directed the student health service at the University of Pennsylvania, where he expanded the M.D./M.P.H. program “to increase the number of students who could be trained concurrently in medicine and public health. Physicians need to treat not only the individual in front of them, but also their families and their communities,” he says, “so the integration of public health training and medical training…is a great combination.” His involvement in improving healthcare for diverse populations, including immigrants, stems from observing the needs of his own family, and those of patients: “I started seeing that there were psychosocial factors that influenced their well-being, things like language access or health insurance.” In Philadelphia, he joined the board of a nonprofit focused on addressing HIV/AIDS among immigrant and refugee communities. His extra-vocational passion is singing: as a former member of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, he performed backup for Hugh Jackman, and as the opening act for Joan Rivers—“quite a thrill.” In Cambridge, he instead fulfills his arts avocation by attending performances at the American Repertory Theater. “I love to sing,” confesses Nguyen, “although I must say I have not sung in an organized fashion in the past three years, because of all the work obligations.” Exuent, pandemic obligations!