As her mother before her, Tuyet Nguyen always wanted to be a nurse. “My mom inspired me. She would have liked to become a nurse, but she married early and couldn’t make her dream come true so she passed it on to me.” Tuyet has a demanding and satisfying position at the Veterans’ Memorial Hospital in Halifax, a job that meant returning to high school to repeat grade 12. She’s a popular nurse who greatly contributes to the quality of health care in the province.
Tuyet’s story in Canada begins with an aunt who sponsored her father as one of the “Vietnamese Boat People” in 1985. He worked here and then in Toronto making car parts. Five years later the entire family – eight children from 17 to 28, including 24-year-old Tuyet — was reunited in Halifax. They lived with her aunt and her father drove taxi. “Everything was strange,” recalls Tuyet. “I wasn’t able to open my mouth and say a word in English.” She had learned English grammar in Vietnam but had little vocabulary. “I was so shy doing groceries with my dad. I just listened. I was so homesick I would dream about Vietnam every night.”
She had completed high school in Vietnam but she couldn’t attend university because her father was a political prisoner, so she worked in a market. In Canada she helped at her aunt’s Vietnamese restaurant. “My first impression of Canadians was as a waitress. Customers were so friendly and nice.” Tuyet participated in a job entry program and studied English at ISANS. ”I told them I was interested in working in a hospital environment.” She received a four-month placement at the IWK maternity unit and was then hired as a “unit aide” taking care of stock for eight years before returning to school. “I was out of school so long I didn’t think I could do it.” Her efforts paid off and in 1995 she entered Dalhousie for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. “It was so hard. I would take an hour to read one page with the dictionary beside me!” Five years later she graduated and earned the job she still has.
Life outside work is equally active as a divorced mother of two daughters, 11 and 8. One brother lives with her and helps out. Tuyet was on the executive of the Vietnamese Association of Nova Scotia and continues to attend functions. She volunteers teaching Vietnamese to children on Sundays, including her own. She also sings in a Vietnamese band and goes to the gym. Her daughters study dance and piano. Tuyet’s parents have retired in BC and would like her to join them. “Halifax is my hometown now. I can’t let go easily. Also it would be hard to leave my co-workers after all this time. My work is important to me.”
Tuyet acknowledges that her journey has taken a lot of work and commitment. “When you’re in a situation like me you become strong in order to adapt. I love my job. I love taking care of people. “