Raised by parents who fled Vietnam following the war, Huong grew up acutely aware of the sacrifices they had made to build a life for her in Australia. Determined to make her parents proud, Huong has always applied herself. She joined Icon Group as a radiation therapist in 2007 and has been instrumental in helping establish a number of new clinics across South East Queensland. Last year, Huong brought her parents to tears as they watched her launch a clinical partnership with a clinic in Vietnam – the epicentre of her family’s story.
Meet Huong Nguyen
A proud career and bright future for this Clinical Lead Radiation Therapist
As a young girl, Huong was greatly influenced by her parents’ values, sculpted by their experience as refugees.
“Dad fought in the Vietnam War and was captured as a prisoner of war. Mum had lost two brothers in the violence. Following the war, they escaped on a tiny boat with just the clothes on their back. Along the way, their vessel was intercepted and ransacked by Thai pirates. As I grew up, they always wanted me to understand what they’d been through – the sacrifices they’d made. They wanted me to know that I was lucky to be where I was in life.”
From an early age, it was Huong’s mission to make her parents proud.
“We always struggled financially. Australia didn’t recognise my parents’ qualifications so they worked out of our garage, sewing clothes. I always knew that what I achieved in life would be a direct reflection on them and what they had sacrificed. I didn’t steer far from the course they set for me – I did what my parents asked. I didn’t want to make mischief.”
Despite their harrowing memories of Vietnam, Huong’s parents always ensured their daughter recognised her cultural roots.
“We’ve been to Vietnam a few times to visit family. My parents wanted me to know the history and understand my deep cultural connection to Vietnam. The Vietnam we see today is not the Vietnam my parents knew as young people. It’s not war-torn now. Their stories from after the war have built resilience in me – how you can pick yourself up and carry on.”
First steps - a career in health
When Huong graduated from high school with flying colours she enrolled in a Bachelor of Radiation Therapy.
“I always knew I wanted to work in health. My parents encouraged me to pursue health science because, in their view, health is a stable sector. I was interested in patient care and supporting people during an important period in their life.”
Finishing uni, Huong undertook the radiation therapy Professional Development Year (PDY) with the Princess Alexandra Hospital. At the end of her program in 2006, she applied to work at a new radiation centre opening in Toowoomba, which would eventually become part of Icon Group’s cancer care division.
“At 21-years-old, I had the opportunity to help establish the new Toowoomba clinic with Mark Middleton and a couple of other directors at the time. We were going paperless – something no one else was doing. It was a real opportunity to innovate. I felt part of a team that was ready to make a real difference.”
Over the next ten years, Huong worked as a radiation therapist at our Toowoomba facility followed by a project management role at Head Office helping to establish additional Icon Group cancer centres.
Yearning to step back into a clinical oncology role, Huong joined Icon’s remote radiation planning team in 2017 as a Clinical Lead Radiation Therapist. Today, she is 2IC of a team of five who specialise in dosimetry or the development of a radiation plan used to treat a patient’s tumour. The team develops complex radiation plans for patients across Asia Pacific and the entire Icon Group network where needed. The expert team also helps train radiation therapists in the region from Icon’s Head Office in Brisbane.
“I love that we’re providing care for so many people from one location. This concept amazes me. I can say, ‘I plan the treatment for patients in Jiangxian, China.’”
“A patient may never have received care if Icon Group didn’t establish the remote planning program – and I get to play an important part in changing this person’s life.”
Impact close to the heart
In 2019, Huong had an opportunity of a lifetime. Icon Group was looking to bring cancer treatment to a neighbour in need.
“South East Asian clinics can sometimes have the best equipment, but don’t have the resources to adequately train the doctors, clinicians and therapists using the technology. We looked at many hospitals, but ultimately, we partnered with Vinmec, a private health company in Vietnam. Our values aligned; they were willing to invest the capital to ensure patients would have the highest quality treatment. We partnered to help them manage their radiation therapy centre, train their team members and monitor the quality of their service.”
In the lead up to implementing the project on the ground, Huong worked with the development team to finalise the project brief. She then made her way over to Ho Chi Minh City in October 2019 to help set up the partnership.
“Over two weeks in Vietnam, we worked with Vinmec to identify what we could offer in terms of support. We conducted a gap analysis of the site to determine similarities and differences to our clinical processes and work out the next steps to improve the site. Since we left, we’ve had an Icon Site Manager liaising with Vinmec on the ground, running training sessions and refining workflow – it’s been a real success. I feel really privileged to have been able to bring our services to Vietnam.”
It just so happened that Huong’s parents were visiting their homeland at the time of the launch. They saw Huong standing beside the Icon Group CEO, Mark Middleton, live on TV to announce the partnership; an incredible moment of pride for the Nguyen family.
“Somehow the planets aligned. My parents were visiting my grandmother at the time and they saw me on the news as it happened. It was such a big moment in our lives…. I could show them what I had achieved and felt extreme pride knowing I had been able to give back to Vietnam.”
Choosing Icon Group - today and tomorrow
When asked why she’s stayed with Icon for the last 14 years, Huong is quick to point to the vast opportunities that are there for the taking with such a fast-growing organisation.
“Working at Icon Group opens more opportunities than people may realise. Just because you’re a pharmacist, nurse or radiation therapist today doesn’t mean you’ll be doing that role in five years. Being part of Icon allows you to take new steps and do something completely different. I’ve had the chance to experience this firsthand. When I was 21 and driving to Toowoomba every day, I never thought I’d be creating plans to help treat patients in China, New Zealand or Vietnam. But the Icon leadership team has always recognised key strengths in people. By developing their people, they strive to do better all the time. The exponential growth Icon has achieved is a testament to that.”
Pondering her future, Huong is certain about the direction she’s heading.
“I love this company. I couldn’t imagine leaving; they’ve done so much for me. They’ve been loyal, and I choose to reciprocate this. I’d love to continue to grow as a leader within Icon Group – whether that means stepping into another role or undertaking more responsibilities as we continue to expand our services; the opportunities are limitless.”
Huong shares three pieces of advice for aspiring radiation therapists.
“Firstly, keep an open mind in terms of your career trajectory. Secondly, find a mentor. They don’t have to be in the same workplace or field of work – just someone who can offer you another perspective. Finally, surround yourself with people who lift you up and support you. Having a good team around you is crucial. This is what I have at Icon.”