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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

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IH trainee Nhu Nguyen serves Lunar New Year surprise at Docside Clinic

Nhu Nguyen, a NIOSH trainee in industrial hygiene at the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, helped celebrate Lunar New Year at the Docside Clinic, cooking Vietnamese food with her mom and surprising Vietnamese fishermen with breakfast.

“Lunar New Year has to be my favorite holiday – filled with joy, love, and pride for our history and culture,” Nguyen said. “Our love language is food, and we wanted these men to enjoy a little taste of home and not miss any festivities.”

The surprise meal was celebrated by the Vietnamese fishermen. 

“They were so thrilled!” Nguyen said. “They thanked my mother and me for the food. Some of them were surprised to see fresh, warm Jasmine rice, which is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Thit kho is a well-known and loved dish, and the men got to enjoy this dish for the first time in a long time. There is no greater feeling than seeing someone enjoy your cooking. My mom really wanted to serve fresh-cooked Vietnamese empanadas and they were a hit. It was the first dish to be devoured!” 

The Docside Clinic in Galveston, Texas was launched by Dr. Shannon Guillot-Wright and her team after hearing from fishermen that what they needed most was primary care access. The one-time event to connect fishermen to primary care has grown to a monthly clinic and interactions with over 300 fishermen. The team is now conducting similar research with fishermen in Louisiana.

“I've met with so many different and inspiring people,” Nguyen said. “The PEOPLE Centered Lab team is so diligent and compassionate. The fishermen and shrimpers are such funny and hard-working people. I am in awe of how hard they work in their own fields and how willing everyone is to hear each other's stories and journeys.” 

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“Nhu and her mom stayed up late and woke up early to make traditional Vietnamese meals for our workers,” Guillot-Wright said. “These fishermen put food on our tables, are doing one of the most dangerous jobs in America, and many live unhoused at the docks. In our interviews, we’ve been told by fishermen, ‘People have forgotten about us…please don’t forget about us.’ Nhu not only put food on their tables, but she also provided a sense of dignity for people who often feel forgotten. I cannot describe how happy and grateful they were, and I was so proud to have her part of our team & our school. I especially loved seeing how our students are both studying the social determinants of health and also embodying solutions to those determinants in our communities.” 

The Docside Clinic is supported by a nearly $1 million grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as well as the US Coast Guard. The grant, “Navigating the Waters of the US Healthcare System: Improving the Biopsychosocial Health of Fishing Industry Workers,” (PI: Guillot-Wright) will support studying the bidirectional relationship between work-related injuries and substance use.

“These fishermen and shrimpers are humans,” Nguyen said. “They have their own stories and lives but work such dangerous jobs. These men are so lively and wonderful, and I want them to be safe, happy, and healthy. They remind me of my own uncles who fish as a hobby, and I want to be part of this journey so their stories are recorded and remembered. They, too, deserve to be protected from such harsh work conditions.” 

The SWCOEH provides graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health® programs.