March 4, 2023
Dr. Hein Pham recognized during Women’s History Month
MOBILE, Ala. — Women’s History Month is a celebration Women’s contribution to history, culture and society and has been observed annually in the month of March in the United States since 1987. The actual celebration grew out of a weeklong celebration women organized by the school district of Sonoma, Calif., in 1978.
A few years later, the idea caught on across the country. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The next year, the Congress followed suit, passing a resolution establishing a national celebration. Six years later, the National Women’s History Project successfully petitioned Congress to expand the event to the whole month of March.
Throughout American history, the tenacity that women advocates have shown in combating systematic inequities has proved to be an invaluable source of inspiration for each successive generation. To commemorate Women’s History Month, MCHD’s Health Equity Office will spotlight local women who have worked tirelessly in the background to make a difference in their communities. While there are many women who contributed to the advancement of community activism, we chose to elevate some of the lesser-known individuals.
This week HEO is proud to spotlight Dr. Hein Pham, a local pharmacist and activist.
Hien was born in Vietnam shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. She remembers being so poor and hungry as a child that she and one of her brothers would share a potato “if we were lucky.” She and her family came to the United States in 1993 when she was 19 years old. When her family arrived in Mobile, Catholic Social Services placed her family of nine with another refugee family of six in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.
Even though she didn’t speak English, she was driven to make a better life for herself and her family. The whole family would wake up before daybreak and pick crabs in Bayou La Batre, and then she would come home, bathe, and walk to work at Mrs. Wheat’s Treats, a local candy store. She also worked at a nail salon and waited tables at a Chinese restaurant. She took English as a Second Language classes at Bishop State Community College at night.
She enrolled and graduated from the University of South Alabama with a major in clinical lab sciences. Hien applied to pharmacy schools and was accepted by three programs, eventually selecting the University of Colorado. During her fourth year of pharmacy school, Hien Pham learned she had a rare form of bile duct cancer called cholangiocarcinoma. She had no family history of cancer, had never smoked, or drank alcohol, and was active and healthy. The five-year survival rate for bile duct cancer is less than 5 percent. Hien didn’t quit school, “Even with a death sentence,” she says, “I wanted to carry on my dream of being a pharmacist.”
Hien graduated from pharmacy school in 2003. Though she battled cancer from her original diagnosis until the present, she hasn’t let the cancer setbacks define her. Hien worked as a pharmacist at Providence Hospital for 16 years, dispensing medication with an infectious smile and words of encouragement. She also worked as a translator for Vietnamese patients.
During the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was a shortage of masks and gloves for healthcare workers, Hein solicited gloves and masks from nail salons throughout the city (which were closed) and distributed them to hospitals (Providence, USA, Springhill) and to police precincts. She purchased fabric and recruited friends to make cloth masks which they sent to organizations across the country. Hien founded “Caring Kids,” an organization that helps to pay medical expenses for local children with cancer. She also works with “Hope for Stomach Cancer” advocacy group, where she lobbies federal and state representatives to fund cancer research and treatment.
Dr. Hien Pham is a wonderful example of a WOMAN who, when given lemons, makes the best lemonade and gladly shares it with others. She said, “Life is not just living for yourself, but it is caring, supporting, and helping other in your community. ”
The Health Equity Office salutes Dr. Pham for seeing her community needs and working to resolve them.