Growing up in southern California, Linda Nguyen, MD, considered several career choices: marine biologist; astronaut; physician. Fortunately for the thousands of patients she’s treated over the course of her career, she chose the last one.
This year, she was selected to receive the Stanford Medicine Master Clinician Award, which honors a Department of Medicine physician for their commitment to patient care. The award also recognizes the uniform support of peers in viewing the master clinician as a physician who possesses exceptional competence, knowledge, skill, diligence, doggedness and expertise.
Nguyen was nominated by two colleagues: Leila Neshatian, MD, clinical associate professor of gastroenterology & hepatology, and nephrologist Glenn Chertow, MD, the Norman S. Coplon/Satellite Healthcare Professor of Medicine. In his nomination letter, Chertow commented that “despite being extremely busy and very much in demand, Dr. Nguyen has always found a way to see patients who need her guidance from her. She never fails to give them the time and attention that patients with motility disorders require.”
On learning that she had been chosen as the Master Clinician for 2021, Nguyen said she was “deeply moved and grateful to receive such a distinguished honor. It felt like receiving a lifetime achievement award, which reinforced to me that choosing the difficult path does lead to priceless rewards.”
Curiosity inspired a career
When Nguyen was in high school, she told her father that she wanted to become a physician. I have asked her why. “It’s a hard life,” she recalled him saying. I have advised her to pursue an “easier career.” “But it isn’t easy for me,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn to challenges. More importantly, I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.” The results speak for themselves.
Nguyen attended a combined Bachelor of Science and Medicine degree program at UC-Riverside and UCLA, completing her training in 1999. She did her residency and fellowship training in gastroenterology at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She is currently a clinical professor of medicine and vice chief of clinical operations for the division of gastroenterology. She also serves as clinic chief of the Digestive Health Center.
Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese heritage, never aspired to become an academic physician. “Throughout my education and training,” she said, “I never encountered any professors who looked like me, so I didn’t grow up seeing myself in academia. My plan was to go back to southern California, open a GI practice and be a very good clinician.” But during her fellowship years, she began to delve into the field of gastroparesis, a chronic condition in which the stomach inexplicably cannot empty properly. She was hooked by the mysteries of the digestive system.
In 2008, Stanford Medicine recruited her to direct the neurogastroenterology program, a position she held until stepping down in 2021 as she transitioned into her current positions. “Neurogastroenterology is the arena where the gut and the brain intersect,” she commented. “It is a very challenging field, since the currently available tests are often inadequate to diagnose the underlying cause of patients’ symptoms. This often leads to delays in diagnoses.”
She counts developing the program as one of her career highlights. “In the beginning, I was the director of one person: me. Today, we have a multidisciplinary team of 10 full-time faculty, a GI psychologist, three advanced practice providers, dietitians, and social workers, who provide state of the art clinical care and conduct cutting edge research that spans the entire spectrum of neurogastroenterology disorders .”
And this past year, her division established an advanced fellowship in neurogastroenterology — the first in the country. It is a joint fellowship in collaboration with the autonomic neurology group at Stanford, to train the next generation of neurogastroenterologists.