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Meet the Chief: Tom C. Nguyen, M.D., Leads Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

Tom C. Nguyen, M.D

Tom C. Nguyen, M.D., an internationally renowned minimally invasive heart surgeon, credits two figures – his father and, yes, a cartoon character – for instilling the qualities that have gotten him to this point in his life.

The new chief medical executive, Barry T. Katzen Medical Director Endowed Chair and director of minimally invasive valve surgery at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute says he learned to speak English watching The Road Runner Show on the family’s television and managed to absorb some valuable life lessons from Wile E. Coyote, the show’s hapless antagonist.

“I am a Vietnamese immigrant who was born at the very end of the Vietnam War. My family came to America as refugees,” recalls Dr. Nguyen. “We were very poor growing up and I was struggling with my ESL classes to the point where my teachers thought I was ‘delayed’ because I still didn’t speak English.”

Dr. Nguyen is forever grateful to his father, who taught him the value of education, hard work, determination and perseverance, forging a path for his eventual success. “Who would have thought that a Vietnamese immigrant who barely spoke any English as a younger child would have the fortune of leading Miami Cardiac and Vascular Institute? My life would have been very different had my father decided to keep us in Vietnam,” he says.

Life lessons learned from a cartoon character

Dr. Nguyen also points to Wile E. Coyote as a role model in his life. “A lot of people laugh at the Coyote for all of his ridiculous failures, which are definitely comical, but I admired how he always managed to get back up, find a different strategy and keep pursuing his one goal in life: to catch the Road Runner. That perseverance, determination and tenacity is something I try to bring to my own life and work as well.”

Perseverance pays off in the operating room, where Dr. Nguyen says a cardiothoracic surgeon can spend many long hours on their feet. “Sometimes we’re in the OR for a long time and our bodies are tired and fatigued,” he admits. “But we’re there for that patient so we need to be able to persevere and do whatever we can for that patient, no matter how long it takes.”

Internationally renowned minimally invasive heart surgeon Tom C. Nguyen, M.D., is chief medical executive, Barry T. Katzen Medical Director Endowed Chair and director of minimally invasive valve surgery at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

A small incision can make a big difference

As a minimally invasive valve surgeon, Dr. Nguyen says a small incision can make a big difference in the patient’s recovery time and quality of life. He is one of only a small number of cardiothoracic surgeons in the U.S. who are trained in both traditional “open” cardiac surgery and minimally invasive surgery.

“For me, it was pretty clear that patients don’t want to have their chest cracked open unless they really have to,” Dr. Nguyen says. “And the data seems to suggest that we could do a lot of complex heart operations without having to crack open the patient’s rib cage and then stitch it back together again.”

Thanks to impressive advances in both knowledge and technology, minimally invasive surgery is now a possibility for an increasing number of cardiac bypass patients. “We’re able to go through a small incision in the groin – less than a centimeter long – to repair and replace your mitral valve or your aortic valve,” says Dr. Nguyen. “That was unheard of even just a few years ago.”

Practice of medicine is constantly evolving

Dr. Nguyen says he has spent the past two decades of his life trying to be the best surgeon he can be. During that time, he says, the best advice he ever received was to try to think outside the box, challenge the status quo and strive for innovation, both in the practice of medicine and in one’s day-to-day life.

“I always say that if we’re doing the same thing now that we did five years ago or if we’re doing the same thing five years from now that we’re doing today, then we’re not making progress. We have to constantly evolve our surgical techniques and the way we practice medicine,” Dr. Nguyen says.

First and foremost a family man

People who know him, says Dr. Nguyen, know that he dedicates every fiber of his being to his work and doesn’t have much time to relax and restore. That said, he doesn’t wish to be defined as just “a man with a scalpel.”

Tom C. Nguyen, M.D. with his wife and daughters

“I love my patients and I love what I do but I’m super appreciative and fortunate to have an incredible family,” says Dr. Nguyen, who has two daughters – aged five and one – with his wife, who is an interventional radiologist at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute. “I prefer to be defined first as a family man and someone who is a great husband and father. That’s really the most important thing to me.”

A physician, a mentor and a program-builder

Dr. Nguyen considers it an honor to lead Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, and says he is committed to ensuring “we have the best healthcare possible, not just at Baptist Health but in all of Miami, across Florida and beyond.”

He says he is someone who loves practicing cardiothoracic surgery, building programs, mentoring and supporting others and, of course, caring for his patients. And what would Dr. Nguyen be doing today if he hadn’t pursued a career in medicine?

“I think I would have been a writer or a video producer. As a writer, you’re actually creating content that can take the reader on a journey, be it happy or sad or humorous or dramatic,” Dr. Nguyen says, adding that video is also a very impactful medium and one he also would have enjoyed.

“It’s such a powerful opportunity to be able to put content on the screen that really inspires folks, tugs on their emotions and gives them something to think about. That’s something you get to do as a writer or as a video producer,” he says.

More quality time with family and friends

Nevertheless, Dr. Nguyen is extremely happy to be doing what he does and to now be doing it here in Miami. He considers it a true privilege to help patients and return them to the quality of life they once enjoyed.

“Medicine is such a privilege because when we interact with patients, we have a very intimate and private relationship with them,” Dr. Nguyen explains. “It’s a privilege being able to practice medicine that culminates in being in the OR fixing someone’s heart and giving them more great years to spend with their family and friends.”

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