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Interview with Debby Nguyen

Introduce yourself! 

Hi! I’m Debby, and I’m currently a second-year at Northeastern University in Boston, majoring in Pharmacy. Last week, I launched my debut nonfiction book, Pills, Teas, and Songs: Stories of Medicine Around The World. I’ve always loved to write and, in the past, have had poetry featured in the New York Times, but publishing a book has been an entirely different experience.

Your debut book, Pills, Teas, and Songs: Stories of Medicine Around the World, is coming out soon—what is it about? What inspired you to write it?

Pills, Teas, and Songs is a collection of eleven stories of diverse medicine products and practices across different cultures, for example, traditional Vietnamese medicine, Ayurveda, indigenous healing traditions in the US, Yoruba medicine, and more. During quarantine this year, being 8,000 miles away from my family, I began thinking about my family’s history of practicing traditional medicine in Vietnam and how I myself didn’t know a whole lot about Vietnamese medicine. I began researching, asking my dad questions, and naturally started reading more about other cultures. I’m amazed every day by how diverse medicine is and want to share that with the world.

What brought you to this point—what were you up to before this book? What is your background?  

Before this book, in my freshman year of college, I was involved in public health research, healthcare consulting, and organized food rescues. This summer, while writing my book, I was a remote intern for a digital health startup from Israel. As a Pharmacy major with a Data Science minor, I’m passionate about democratizing healthcare access through tech. Even though Pills, Teas, and Songs isn’t directly connected to my future career plans, I really love learning about cultures and actually around this time last year solo-traveled to Laos for two weeks.

How have you adapted to life during the COVID-19 pandemic?  

I am still adapting! Every day brings different challenges, but that’s what makes this year a period of growth for me. This summer, I lived alone for the first time, and this Christmas will be my first away from home. Writing has been really grounding for me, and since my book explores different cultures, it’s my way of “traveling” while still staying in. I have amazing friends in Boston and around the world, so connecting over Zoom has also been another way for me to find joy,

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment? Personally and work-wise? 

Personally, my biggest accomplishment so far is learning to actively find joy and share it with other people. Living life with a purpose is very important to me, and this year I began looking inwards to ask what really makes me happy, whether it’s writing, making new friends, or cooking. I began doing one thing that makes me excited every day and try to bring that joy to other people. Work-wise, writing Pills, Teas, and Songs has been an accomplishment for me because of the trust I’ve been given by the people who I interview, and I’m honored to share their stories with the world.

Who inspires you? Do you have any role models in your lives? 

It’s very cliche, but my dad inspires me. He is incredibly passionate about his work and has taught me being kind is of utmost importance no matter what I do. So, passion and kindness are two principles that I live by.

How does your cultural identity and heritage influence your writing? Your research? Your interest in healthcare? 

My passion for healthcare and writing are intertwined with my Vietnamese identity. When I was little, I visited my grandparent’s house every weekend and helped my grandpa package his medicine into bags, which were kept in bamboo baskets that stacked to the ceiling. Although I’m currently studying pharmacy and will work within the Western medicine system, I believe cultural understanding of different forms of medicine will help me become a more empathetic pharmacist. When I did research into immigrant health in the US this year, the experience only affirmed my desire to make healthcare not only more accessible but welcoming to immigrants, especially people of color. I believe understanding the medicine systems and beliefs that people from various cultures have is essential for everyone who works in the healthcare ecosystem.

What do you think are the biggest issues Asian women face today? 

Asian women, even in 2020, are still viewed as subservient and quiet. Personally, I’ve been described as “cute” numerous times in professional scenarios, and being unapologetic for taking up space has been a skill I’ve had to practice. The bamboo ceiling is very real, and as Asian women, we are not perceived to be able to lead but instead be in the background. However, I’m optimistic things will change for the better, and every day, I’m inspired by all the amazing Asian and Asian-American women that open doors for us.

What’s next for you?  

I still have four and a half more years of pharmacy school! I will continue to write, grow, and find ways to bring others joy every day.


Debby Nguyen is a Pharmacy and Data Science student at Northeastern University, a New York Times-featured writer, and the author of her new book Pills, Teas, and Songs, which discusses diverse medicine practices in different cultures.

Book Preorder: igg.me/at/debbynguyen

Instagram: @debbynguyen_author

Website: debbynguyen.com

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