Meet the Scholars: Tran Doan


Tran Doan is a PhD candidate in Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan. She is a part of the Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.

Before we begin, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your research interests are.

I was born in southern California, near Orange County, which hosts the largest Vietnamese population in the United States. My father is a refugee and my mother is an immigrant who met in the United States and are both  naturalized American citizens. They began working in the nail salon industry in the early 1990s, which resulted in frequent moves for our family. I have lived in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, and various parts of California, and eventually landed in Pittsburgh, which I now consider my home. I completed an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, where I fell in love with scientific discovery, and went on to get a master’s of public health, where I became active in HIV/AIDS health policy and advocacy. My transition from bench science (generally science conducted in a lab setting) to social science has allowed me to be more creative in my research questions and methodologies, and has introduced me to the world of policymaking.

My research interests focus on cost effectiveness analyses of universal mental health screenings for adolescents,  specifically young women and girls. Mental health is an understudied field, and even more so when it comes to programs tailored to multicultural adolescent populations. I aim to focus on Latina and Asian girls because there are some commonalities in their bicultural experiences, including having immigrant parents, and/or parents who speak another language, and/or parents who are recent immigrants and refugees. There are also striking similarities between these cultures and the expectations for young women in a family structure.

Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.

I am just beginning to work on my dissertation and am currently in the proposal writing phase. I hope that the third chapter of my dissertation, which I am currently conceptualizing, will feature a cost burden analysis of lost earnings and productivity among Vietnamese patients who have been diagnosed with cancer.

This idea was born out of a conversation with my HPRS coach, Professor Sora Park Tanjasiri. She is currently working on a project examining the difference between a community-based patient navigator (as opposed to a hospital-based patient navigator) to determine whether a more community-centric approach improves the effectiveness and care coordination among Vietnamese patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. I hope to collaborate with Dr. Tanjasiri and contribute the cost-piece as a complement to her research, with the intention of improving cancer care and coordination for Vietnamese people.

For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?

When we talk about race categories—on demographics surveys for example—the existing categories do a disservice to Asian Americans and other relatively smaller groups, such as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, and Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The Asian Pacific Islander race category alone represents populations from over 50 ethnicities who speak over 100 languages and practice a range of faiths. These different populations are often lumped together on health surveys and sometimes even labeled as “Other” in surveys and data reporting. How much information are we gleaning, and how many conclusions can we make in research, when we think about “Asians” as a homogenous group?

Who is a researcher you admire and why?

I admire my advisor, Professor Lisa Prosser, who is the Assistant Dean for Research Faculty and Director of Susan B. Meister Child Health Evaluation and Research Center at the University of Michigan. I am always learning from her, and she pushes me really hard. She is a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially around gender issues. Dr. Prosser is passionate about policy translation, and I have been able to learn a great deal from her regarding methods and communication strategies. She is teaching me how to translate complex concepts and methods for various audiences, which is a skill that is critical in policy decision-making.

How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?

Being a part of the HPRS program has been life changing. For the first time, I am recognized as a member of an underrepresented group, and this program has given me the support and community that understands the unique challenges that come with having an identity that is not part of the dominant culture in academia. As a Vietnamese American, I have had expectations placed on me that follow the damaging “model minority” myth that Asian Americans should be high-achievers. It is an expectation that is nearly impossible to live up to, and within the HPRS community, I have found others who have experienced the same or similar challenges (e.g., being the first person in your family to go to college). So having a whole cohort of similar people has helped me grow and be comfortable with my vulnerabilities and shortcomings, while validating my experiences and serving as an amazing support system.

Ok, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you want to have with you?

Not including water or food … probably paper, a pencil, and lip balm!

Tran’s Bio



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