From Vietnam to America: Dr. Nguyen Tien Young, 'one of the lucky ones'

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By Becca Owsley

Dr. Nguyen Tien Young’s life has taken him from war-torn Vietnam to a medical practice in Elizabethtown.


He came to the United States 38 years ago after escaping Vietnam. A physician in chief of the First Battalion Marine Corps of South Vietnam, he fought against the communist Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War.

“I was on the battlefront, I faced the enemy and I’m one of the lucky ones,” he said.

He served in the mountains until his unit was ordered to withdraw to a southern province.

“And that’s when things got worse,” he said. “We didn’t have a way to get out; the enemy was cutting off bridges.”

At first he didn’t try to get out because he didn’t want to leave his unit. After his brother, a captain in the dental corps, left, he decided it was time to get out. Young and a friend decided to leave though a seaport.

“You could see thousands of people waiting for ships, but there were no ships,” he said.

Finally, he was able to get on a little boat and later was rescued by a battleship crew. That day, the province he’d just left fell to communist forces.

During the last days of the war, he found a way to get to the airport to evacuate from the region. Americans were trying to help people who had connections with them get out of the country, but Young had no connections. He finally was able to get to the American base and explained he could be imprisoned or killed by the communist government because he fought against them. He then was able to get to America.

“Looking back it has been a good journey,” he said. “A long journey and that was 38 years ago.”

After coming to America he didn’t know much English. His medical degree from Vietnam was not recognized by the American Medical Association, so he had to train further while learning about American culture. He worked as an orderly for $2 an hour while he waited for training.

To gain his freedom, Young gave up everything. He didn’t know if he’d be able to practice medicine again but he could not tolerate communism so he took a chance in America.

He knew the troubles of communism well, he said. His parents are from northern Vietnam and he remembers his parents’ and grandparents’ land being confiscated by the communist government.

“I can still remember when they came and took over our house, we had a villa at the time,” he said.

He was just a child then but remembers wondering why there were strangers in their home. He said it was like what was portrayed in the film “Doctor Zhivago.”

He eventually attended the University of Louisville and completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism.

“I’m a Cards fan,” he said.

He came to Elizabethtown 27 years ago and has a practice in endocrinology, diabetes and internal medicine.

Young is an American citizen who appreciates his freedom.

“I have a very good and very clear understanding as well as respect for America,” he said.

He wants young people to value education. He taught his children that material things are not important, what is inside you is important and you can grow if you have a good education.

Studying not only betters the learner, but also enables them to help others, he said.

He does that as a doctor.

Physicians are healers, he said. He takes pride in the ability to take care of others and treat them like family.

This is something others who work with him also notice.

Vanessa Paddy started working at Hardin Memorial Hospital the year Young began his local practice. As a nurse practitioner coordinating the diabetes management program, she’s seen Young’s passion in making sure his patients educate themselves to see they have control of their heath care, she said.

Paddy recognizes the many contributions Young has made to patients with diabetes.

“Dr. Young is a very well respected physician in this hospital and community who cares a lot for his patients and wants so much for them to do well,” she said.

He’s an extremely polite and humble man, she said, adding he’s approachable and easy to talk to as one practitioner to another.

“Because he is humble he doesn’t take the accolades he deserves,” she said.

His work in the community was honored by the Kentucky State Senate on Feb. 8, 2010, with a resolution recognizing him for his “kindness, compassion and years of medical care to the citizens of Elizabethtown.”

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Getting to know Dr. Nguyen Tien Young:
Favorite movie: “Doctor Zhivago”
Art: Picasso
Music: Classical, listens to other things on the radio but it's classical most of the time. He also plays classical and flamenco guitar. He is self taught and began learning as a teenager.
Hobbies: Young enjoys photography and recently started learning about how cars work while trying to fix his old BMW.
Family: His wife, Ha Young, and three children, two girls and a boy. He is very proud of his children.
Pet: 16-year-old Pekinese
Age: 63