Making a surgeon
By Anthony Langley
Mireille Truong, M.D. (B.A.’03/H&S; Cert.’04/B; M.D.’08/M), had no idea what Richmond, Virginia, would be like.
“I’m originally from Canada, so when I got here, everything was brand new to me,” she says.
After her parents found jobs in the city, Truong, a college freshman at the time, moved to Richmond and, with her mother’s help, began researching colleges around the state. She applied to Virginia Commonwealth University to be as close to her family’s new home as possible.
She transferred to VCU her sophomore year, studying French and Spanish, and quickly got involved in campus life, serving as the student body vice president. Together with friends, she co-founded an organization to help expand diversity on campus and led efforts to turn the Intercultural Festival into a major annual event for students and VCU’s neighbors.
“I have friends who have kids now that go to the ICF, and I’m still amazed that it’s a big part of VCU tradition and the Richmond community,” she says. “I don’t know how many people get the chance to experience this — watching something they are passionate about, that they started, grow alongside them into something so huge. I am so grateful for that experience, and for those who shared this with me.”
Napoleon Peoples, Ph.D., was one of those individuals. The former associate dean of student affairs for VCU’s MCV Campus previously served as director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, where, as a faculty member, he worked with students on developing the ICF.
“She was instrumental in moving the ICF forward,” he says. “She had vision. …. She was an outstanding leader.”
Truong’s love of language inspired her to pursue a career in diplomacy, wanting to become an ambassador. She intentionally front-loaded her class schedule with the required science classes to get them out of the way.
“I never enjoyed the classes before I got to college, but I had great professors at VCU who changed my view of sciences,” she says. “That was what got me interested in sciences.”
While studying Spanish, she volunteered at a local OB-GYN clinic translating for Spanish-speaking patients. In her two years working there, she grew to enjoy her interactions with the patients and eventually became a clinical assistant, helping the physicians with patients.
With encouragement from her professors and mentors, Truong continued to work in medical settings, volunteering at the Fan Free and CrossOver clinics as well as shadowing physicians at VCU Medical Center. By the time she reached her junior year, she knew her career path was headed in a different direction.
“I had a biology professor, Dr. [Rhonda] Perozzi, who told me that I should go to med school one day,” Truong says. “She probably doesn’t even remember saying that to me, but it stuck.”
Truong completed her bachelor’s degree, obtained a certificate in international management and then dove headfirst into her medical studies at VCU’s School of Medicine, where she became involved with HOMBRE, a student-led group that organizes medical mission trips to Honduras, and Centering Pregnancy, a holistic model to prenatal care. Once she earned her medical degree, Truong left Virginia to complete a research fellowship in surgical simulation at Florida Hospital Nicholson Center and a fellowship in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center.
“I love that I can help improve a woman’s quality of life, and that’s why I do surgery,” she says. “VCU does a great job combining teaching with not just hands-on experience, but also creative and innovative teaching methods. It’s like one big family. That’s why I came back to Richmond.”
Truong is now an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the VCU School of Medicine and director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at VCU Medical Center.
“It’s surreal that the people who helped me so much in medical school are now my colleagues,” Truong says. “Without them there to push me, mentor me and support me, I wouldn’t be here today.”
She serves as a pioneer in her field, developing surgical techniques that offer relief to patients suffering from abnormal menstrual cycles, fibroids, endometriosis or other lower abdominal pains who want to get pregnant or who are having difficulty conceiving.
“These issues can really affect their quality of life,” she says. “Oftentimes, it prevents them from going to work or school.”
Through minimally invasive techniques, endometriosis and large masses, such as fibroids and uteri, can be removed with incisions smaller than 1 centimeter, which allows women to recover faster and have less pain than traditional surgery.
“To get a phone call from a patient who was able to get pregnant after the surgery or seeing a patient who can now get back to living a normal life without pain or heavy bleeding, knowing that I was able to make a difference, that’s my favorite part,” Truong says.
– Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.