Closing the Chasm

By Kruse Scholar Bianca Nguyen

With the transition into the new year, the Kruse Scholars program has welcomed its latest cohort of bright and passionate scholars. After returning to campus for my final semester in the Master of Healthcare Administration program, I joined together with my fellow current scholars and those from the first-year class to discuss the work we have been doing and will go on to do with Communities of Excellence. While listening to the enthusiasm of the new students joining the Kruse Scholar family, I reflected upon why I chose to pursue this path and what it has meant to me along the way.

During my undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I was actively involved in social justice, engaging in conversations across campus and interacting with an array of multicultural groups surrounding issues of diversity and inclusion. Among the many aspects of life that people with varying identities experience differently, healthcare is one of them. In my personal life, I witnessed how being a minority played a role in receiving health care. Although I originally had a passion for medicine and was pursuing a track to medical school at the time, I realized that these inequalities in health could only be addressed at an elevated level using methods beyond just the clinical setting. I ended up in the MHA program with a zeal for minority health and a desire to change the structures that create barriers to addressing the social determinants of health.

However, after my first month in the MHA program at the University of Minnesota, I was experiencing a bit of an existential crisis. Though based in the School of Public Health, I found the MHA program to be deeply rooted in business operations with little attention paid to the communities and population health imperatives that I was so passionate about. On the outside, I was complacently taking notes in my finance class. In contrast, my heart was pounding and my mind was racing on the inside, wondering what kind of decision I had made for my life and how I would spend the rest of my career looking at numbers and scorecards, tracking volumes and revenues, while underserved communities continued to struggle achieving appropriate levels of health. The content I learned in the MHA program was stimulating, and I enjoyed the administrative and management side of healthcare, but I was not sure how to reconcile the apparent disconnect between my personal and professional goals and interests.

It was while I was questioning what I was doing with my life and career that Lowell Kruse, an alumnus from the class of ’67, came to speak to our class. Here was someone who had graduated from the MHA program, but was not just managing margins and services within the confines of a hospital. Although Lowell enjoyed an accomplished and successful career as a healthcare executive for many years, he went further than the traditional duties of serving the health systems he worked for and made remarkable efforts to serve the communities beyond them. His vision for this work resulted in the creation of Communities of Excellence and gave me clarity and a revitalized passion for improving and strengthening communities.

Joining the Kruse Scholar program and entering the work of Communities of Excellence was the answer to the tumultuous cognitive dissonance I was worried would eat at me for the rest of my career. I think that, too often, people end up in roles that suit them professionally, or even settle for jobs just to get the bills paid. Perhaps, like me, you honestly enjoy the field that you chose, but feel compelled to a bigger cause to serve the greater good—a cause that you are unable to reach in your current career or situation. No matter what position you hold or what industry you are in, being part of Communities of Excellence is the opportunity to make that difference in the world.

Read more about Bianca Nguyen here

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