Nursing grad student Trang Truong
Trang Truong, who’s enrolled in the UC Irvine master’s entry program in nursing, received the 2023-24 Carol A. Pierson MEPN Student Scholarship, which she says alleviates some of the stress that comes with being a first-generation, low-income student. Steve Zylius / UC Irvine

Trang Truong, who’s pursuing an entry-level master’s degree in nursing at UC Irvine, believes that patient self-advocacy is the first step toward making the U.S. healthcare system more accessible.

When she was growing up in Fountain Valley, her parents – Vietnamese immigrants – were both diagnosed with cancer, and the family relied heavily on government supplements. This made Truong aware of the disparities in healthcare at an early age.

Then her own chronic illness surfaced, and she experienced firsthand the hardships of navigating the healthcare system. In addition, Truong has a stutter, a poorly researched and often misunderstood condition. This has made it difficult for her to communicate with healthcare professionals – a discouraging barrier to diagnosis and treatment.

After two years at a community college, Truong transferred to UC Irvine as a psychological sciences major in 2018. During her undergraduate years, she served as a peer health educator, working with registered dietitian Jody Margolis and teaching classmates about nutrition from a holistic perspective. She was also a mental health intern with the UC Irvine student government.

During the pandemic, Truong was invited to appear on “Good Morning America,” and she used this platform to spread awareness about stuttering, a condition often attributed to anxiety that, in her case, is neurological.

Around the same time, Truong was working as a personal trainer. Seeing clients whose quality of life was affected by hypertension, diabetes and sciatica, she was inspired to become a nurse to help those with chronic illnesses have more of a voice in their health outcomes.

At UC Irvine, Truong enrolled in the master’s entry program in nursing, designed for students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees who wish to become registered nurses.

Her professors encourage a work-life balance, Truong says, and she appreciates the support and focus on mental health. She also values the short breaks provided in class to stretch, which helps to manage her chronic pain.

Something else Truong is grateful for is receiving the 2023-24 Carol A. Pierson MEPN Student Scholarship, which she says alleviates some of the stress that comes with being a first-generation, low-income student.

Currently, Truong works as an F45 Training instructor at the Anteater Recreation Center. She says it reminds her of why she pursued healthcare in the first place: to help patients or clients address aspects of their well-being that fitness can’t always solve.

Truong is still deciding what she wants to do after her 2025 graduation. For now, she plans to work in a field that supports women with chronic illnesses. Truong also wants to help patients with communication disabilities improve their healthcare outcomes. Her goal is to assist anyone who is at a socioeconomic or psychosocial disadvantage in the U.S. healthcare system.

“I want these patients to feel empowered and to know their resources and really be heard,” Truong says. “The more advocacy there is for anything, the more stigmas are broken and the more progress is made. I got to experience that firsthand with my stutter: The more people knew about it, the less shame I had from it – which, ultimately, made me a patient with more control over my health.”

If you want to learn more about supporting this or other activities at UCI, please visit the Brilliant Future website at Publicly launched on October 4, 2019, the Brilliant Future campaign aims to raise awareness and support for UCI. By engaging 75,000 alumni and garnering $2 billion in philanthropic investment, UCI seeks to reach new heights of excellence in student success, health and wellness, research and more. The Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing plays a vital role in the success of the campaign. Learn more by visiting