Linda Nguyen, MD, grew up in Southern California and considered several career choices: marine biologist; astronaut; doctor. Fortunately for the thousands of patients she has treated over the course of her career, she chose the latter.
This year she was selected to receive the Stanford Medicine Master Clinician Award, which honors a Department of Medicine physician for their commitment to patient care. The award also recognizes the unified support of peers in seeing the master physician as a physician possessing exceptional competence, knowledge, skill, dedication, tenacity and expertise.
Nguyen was nominated by two colleagues: Leila Neshatian, MD, clinical associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology, and nephrologist Glenn Chertow, MD, the Norman S. Coplon/Satellite Healthcare Professor of Medicine. In his nomination letter, Chertow noted that “despite being extremely busy and in high demand, Dr. Nguyen has always found a way to see patients who need her guidance. She always gives them the time and attention that patients with need motility disorders.”
When she learned that she had been chosen as a Master Clinician for 2021, Nguyen said she was “deeply touched and grateful to receive such a distinguished honor. It felt like receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, which reinforced to me that choosing from the difficult path leads to priceless rewards.”
Curiosity inspired a career
When Nguyen was in high school, she told her father that she wanted to become a doctor. He asked her why. “It’s a hard life,” she recalled him saying. He advised her to pursue an “easier career”. “But it’s not easy for me,” she said. “I have always been drawn to challenges. More importantly, I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.” The results speak for themselves.
Nguyen completed a combined Bachelor of Science and Medicine degree at UC-Riverside and UCLA, completing her degree in 1999. She completed her residency and fellowship training in gastroenterology at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She is currently clinical professor of medicine and vice chief of clinical operations for the division of gastroenterology. She also serves as the chief of clinic for the Digestive Health Center.
Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, never aspired to be an academic doctor. “During my education and training,” she said, “I never met any professors who looked like me, so I didn’t grow up with myself in academia. My plan was to go back to Southern California, a GI practice and to be a very good doctor.” But during her fellowship years, she began to delve into the field of gastroparesis, a chronic condition in which the stomach inexplicably cannot empty properly, and was addicted to the mysteries of the digestive system.
In 2008, Stanford Medicine recruited her to lead the neurogastroenterology program, a position she held until resigning in 2021 when she transitioned to her current positions. “Neurogastroenterology is the arena where the gut and brain intersect,” she noted. “It is a very challenging field, as currently available tests are often inadequate to diagnose the underlying cause of patients’ symptoms. This often leads to delays in diagnoses.”
She considers developing the program to be one of her career highlights. “In the beginning I was director of one person: me. Today, we have a multidisciplinary team of 10 full-time educators, a GI psychologist, three advanced practice providers, dietitians and social workers, providing state-of-the-art clinical care and conducting groundbreaking research spanning the entire spectrum of neurogastroenterological disorders.”
And over the past year, her department established an advanced fellowship in neurogastroenterology — the first in the country. It is a joint grant in partnership with Stanford’s Autonomous Neurology group to educate the next generation of neurogastroenterologists.