Choosing the Nursing program at UVM came easily to Thong “Key” Nguyen, but it was music, not medicine, that led him here.

Nguyen was a high school student and a member of the Vermont Youth Orchestra Chorus when his vocal coach held his recital at Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne, Vt. The melody he sang prompted a Wake Robin resident to suggest that he become a nurse.

“An older lady approached me with eyes full of tears, she held my arm with her hands shaking, needing my support to stand up. She told me I reminded her of a nurse she once knew who had a beautiful voice. She said ‘your voice is so beautiful,’ and she asked if I would consider becoming a nurse. I thought it was just a fun compliment, but I looked into her eyes and I realized it was a serious question. It stuck in my head a lot after that,” Nguyen recalled.

Soon after that experience, Nguyen ’s parents, who speak no English, asked him for help at the U.S. Social Security office to discuss their future, and he realized that his parents will need his support. The Nguyen family emigrated from Viet Nam to the U.S. in 2013, and the parents are ineligible for government retirement benefits.

“The image of the lady in Wake Robin reflected back to my mind. My parents depend on me for basic needs,” he said. “With skills as a nurse, I can provide care for my parents and give them financial support.”

Nguyen researched nursing education, potential jobs and salaries. “I enjoy studying about human physiology and health science,” he said. “Majoring in nursing is perfect for me.”

Nguyen enjoyed a busy first year in college taking nursing classes, singing with the UVM Catamount Singers and serving as a senator in the Student Government Association. During the summer, he participated in a six-week internship at the University of Texas Health Science Center, taking classes and doing clinical rotations, “to see what it is like to work in the health care profession and learn how to be a graduate student.”

This year, in addition to his work as a student Senator and singing with Catamount Singers, Nguyen serves as an Residence Advisor and a “Links” peer advisor to first year students.

“I’m passionate about guiding new students because, personally, I would not be where I am today without help from other people,” he said. “When I came to the U.S. I could not speak English. Countless people helped me, and I am thankful for that. I have accomplished a lot last year and I can pass this on to the incoming class. I want to help the next class of nursing students be successful.”

His future plans are in place: After graduating in 2021, he intends to stay on at UVM to pursue a master of science in nursing followed, by a Doctor of Nursing practice degree. To prepare for graduate school, this summer Nguyen will

He hopes to return to Wake Robin to sing for the lady who inspired him. “When I go back, I will tell her I’m in the nursing program. I look forward to it.”


Janet Lynn Essman Franz
"Majoring in nursing is perfect for me," Nguyen said.
Nursing students practice health care skills on mannequins in the Clinical Simulation Laboratory in the Rowell Building.