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Two UM resident physicians are drafting picture books — and wedding vows

Two people in doctors coats hold a stack of books. The book on the top has a blue cover and says "Opthalmology for kids".
Brandon Pham
Betty Nguyen and Brandon Pham with some of the books they've written. Many of their books feature collaborations with other doctors.

After working 12 hours at the hospital, the day is still not over for Betty Nguyen and Brandon Pham.

For the past two and a half years, they’ve spent their evenings and weekends writing, editing and publishing 25 children’s books on cardiology, dermatology and more.

The 28-year-olds got engaged two years ago, but Nguyen and Pham first met while attending the same high school in California. Then they both went to the University of California, Los Angeles, but they didn't start dating until later, when they went separate ways for medical school. That’s when they got the idea for the Medical School for Kids series.

“We were just joking about how we wish we had this information at an earlier age,” Nguyen said. “A lot of the stuff we learned in medical school isn't too difficult to grasp, but there's just so much content. And then one day we were like, 'What if we taught this to kids?'”

Now, both are resident physicians at the University of Miami. Nguyen's focus is dermatology and Pham's is ophthalmology.

Two people stand holding books open and looking at each other.
Don Pham
Pham and Nguyen's first two books were Opthamology for Kids and Dermatology for Kids, which are their specialties, respectively.

They said their passion to improve health literacy was a big motivator behind the series, and they hope that the books empower children and their parents to take ownership over their own health.

“A lot of the patients we see in the hospital don't fully understand what's going on in their bodies, why they might have a certain disease, or what kind of steps they can take to improve their health and overall well being,” Nguyen said. “A lot of that stems from … not having access to educational materials that they're able to understand.”

Both Nguyen and Pham’s parents are refugees from the Vietnam war and had limited education and English proficiency, so they each grew up learning a lot from children’s books.

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They wish they had a series like Medical School for Kids to give them early exposure to the field, they said. When Nguyen and Pham published their first book, Dermatology for Kids, they described their outlook as “blind faith and optimism.”

“I don’t even think we thought this was going to be successful,” Pham said. “Success for us would have just been having a book out there and being able to share it with our nieces and nephews and our future children."

After the couple received a lot of positive feedback from social media with requests for books on other medical specialties, they started publishing more volumes. Most of them highlight specific medical specialties, but some also introduce readers to the healthcare profession.

“With every book we're learning and improving. We're very grateful for this platform to continue to learn and grow,” Nguyen said.

While Nguyen and Pham are first-time authors, both have teaching experience. Pham has worked for test prep tutoring company Princeton Review and created videos teaching chemistry and ophthalmology. Nguyen has tutored students ever since she was in high school.

“It’s just knowing your audience,” Pham said. “Speak at that level and know what’s important and what’s not important.”

The couple still had to learn how to self-publish and navigate legal agreements, which wasn’t easy. Still, Nguyen said the business has expanded her idea of what’s possible.

“I think one of the biggest things I learned was that you should never put yourself in a box,” Nguyen said. “You could be anything you want to be and you could be everything you want to be.”

The couple plans to get married next year — if they can find time.

“The wedding is second priority,” Nguyen said, as they both laughed. “The books have taken precedence over most of our time.”

A man wearing a collared shirt and jeans is on one knee holding a box.  To his left is a woman in a white dress facing him smiling.
Don Pham
Pham proposed to Nguyen June 2022 at the Huntington Beach Pier in California.

Anita Li is a Spring and Summer 2024 intern for WLRN. She is about to enter her last year at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she studies journalism.
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