Passion for helping others led to dreams of medical school

IvaDean Scholarship at UC made it possible

It was more than just a dream to go to medical school for two University of Cincinnati students. 

Their years of medical outreach and work as a first responder are what led to a passion for making an impact on the lives of people in need.

But both William Smith, COM '24 and Minh Nguyen, COM '25, students in UC’s College of Medicine, said their dreams of attending medical school wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support of the IvaDean Medical Student Scholarship.

The IvaDean Scholarship — named in tribute to IvaDean Lair for her profound influence on medical students while working in the dean's office for more than 50 years — is awarded to exceptional students each year who show great potential and promise as future medical professionals. Since its inception, the IvaDean Scholarship has helped more than 240 students reach their goals of pursuing a medical career in education, research or administration.

As children of immigrant parents, both Smith and Nguyen learned early about the challenges of growing up as a minority in America while building their desire to help people. But interestingly, they each developed a fondness for medicine in different ways.

William Smith

UC medical student William Smith stands on bridge in lobby of UC College of Medicine.

William Smith

“Losing my mother to breast cancer when I was a child helped instill my passion for going into medicine,” says Smith, second-year student in UC’s College of Medicine. “As an undergrad student, I also taught topics in neuroscience and worked with troubled teens helping them manage anger and stress with meditation and mindfulness intervention.

“During the summer after my first year in UC’s College of Medicine, I really connected while leading a youth therapy group through the Lighthouse Youth Center as part of Cincinnati’s Urban Health Project. 

"Those experiences were powerful in steering me toward a life of helping people.”

Several students stand together on the Banks overlooking downtown Cincinnati.

As an undergrad student in UC's Medical Sciences Program, William Smith (front, center) enjoyed working with other students as part of a youth therapy group through the Lighthouse Youth Center and Cincinnati's Urban Health Project.

As a child of immigrant parents from Monrovia, Liberia, Smith saw life through a multi-dimensional lens. While his father earned his college degree in Liberia, and was an adjunct professor in a college in central Ohio, Smith’s mother received her degree later in the U.S. 

“While both my parents were strong influences on my life, my dad would always tell me education was the way to make something of yourself and give back to the community,” says Smith.

Getting into medical school can be a challenging process, and coming from modest means, Smith also found it expensive. “So, I am very grateful for my IvaDean Scholarship.

"My goal as a future physician in family medicine is to provide good longitudinal care and give back to Ohio and my general community by empowering my patients to live healthy lives,” adds Smith.

As a first responder, I saw the value of, not only caring for the disease or injury, but also the importance of addressing the mental and emotional needs of the patient. This experience led to feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable during critical situations.

Minh Nguyen First-year UC College of Medicine student

Minh Nguyen

UC med student Minh Nguyen stands in front of UC's College of Medicine on Eden Avenue.

Minh Nguyen

While both students dedicated their lives to helping others through volunteer work and medical care, Nguyen says it was his experience as an emergency medical technician where he developed his passion for becoming an emergency room physician.

“As a first responder, I saw the value of, not only caring for the disease or injury, but also the importance of addressing the mental and emotional needs of the patient,” says Nguyen, first-year student in UC’s College of Medicine. “This experience led to feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable. And through that, I feel I can provide the best care during the challenges in critical situations.”

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Nguyen is also the child of immigrant parents who came to the U.S. after the VietNam war. “Watching my parents work so hard to become successful helped me develop an appreciation for how hard work can open doors to a better pathway in life. As a first-generation college student, I received a lot of pride and support from my parents to go to college and always be the best version of myself.

UC's Minh Nguyen (far right) stands with two women as a team of EMT workers.

Minh Nguyen (far right) worked as an EMT in Dayton, Ohio, before becoming a UC medical student.

“My high school wrestling coach was also a big influence, pushing me to stay the course and never give up.”

After earning a bachelor's degree from UC's Medical Sciences Program in 2019, Nguyen’s aptitude and drive for working on the front lines in medicine eventually led to becoming an EMT for two years to save money and explore ways to finance his ultimate goal of going to medical school.

”Through that process I found out about the IvaDean Scholarship, and UC financial services made it easy to apply online,” he says. “Being awarded the scholarship has been a true lifechanger.”


Featured image at top: UC medical students William Smith and Minh Nguyen in front of UC's College of Medicine. Photo by Melanie Schefft for UC Foundation

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