First-Generation American, USU Student Fulfills Lifelong Goal of Becoming a Navy Surgeon

Clara Hua, pictured center in cap and gown, a person on either side of her

By Ian Neligh

Growing up, children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up — but few have an answer they stick with their entire lives until it comes true.

With steadfast determination and drive to help others in need, Navy Lt. (Dr.) Clara Hua realized her lifelong goal of becoming a physician on May 15 when she graduated from medical school.

The first-generation American was part of this year’s Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USU) graduating class.

Clara Hua in a white uniform next to a man in a white uniform.
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Clara Hua realized her lifelong goal
of becoming a physician when she graduated from
the Uniformed Services University of the Health
Sciences on May 15. (Photo credit: Courtesy of
Clara Hua)
Hua said her inspiration to become a doctor began when she first came across the idea in middle school when she was just 11 years old.

“We were doing career days in middle school in fifth or sixth grade and looking at all the careers and I was like, ‘yup, this is it’ and ever since then I really haven’t wavered from it,” Hua said. 

Hua’s parents and grandparents sought asylum after the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon. Some 125,000 Vietnamese fled their country seeking asylum in the United States, drawn by the promise of a better life for themselves and their children. 

Her family, like many others, found a new home in California which has the largest Vietnamese immigrant population in the country. Specifically, her family lives in the city of Monterey Park in Los Angeles County, which has one of the biggest concentrations of Asian-Americans living in the United States.

“My parents both grew up in Vietnam and after the Vietnam War they came to the United States to start over and start a new life, have children, start their family,” she said. “They miss their hometown but they wanted to come to the United States for the American dream… they were very proud when I chose medical school this way.”

Hua said it wasn’t uncommon among her Vietnamese-American peers to have the importance of academic achievement instilled in them by their parents.

“Since I was 11 years old, I knew I was going to be a doctor, specifically a surgeon, and here I am. It ended up being everything I wanted.” - Navy Lt. (Dr.) Clara Hua 

“Education is a huge part of the first-generation Asian-American culture,” Hua said. “Speaking for myself, and for many classmates of mine, we were expected to go to a four-year college, and expected to do well in school. Academics was highly important to all of us.”

Hua said her father also taught her the importance of being compassionate to others, developing empathy, and stepping in to help someone when they couldn’t help themselves. She said she found these lessons important and inspiring on her journey to becoming a doctor.

“The profession of medicine itself is incredibly selfless, and that was also important to me because my family would be involved in charity and giving back to our community with a lot of volunteering,” Hua said. “I think this was a profession that kind of captured both sides: it had the rigorous academic portion of learning the language of medicine but also compassion and that’s why I ended up choosing it,” Hua said. 

A group of students in camouflage. There is a camouflage truck behind them.
Navy Lt. (Dr.) Clara Hua, pictured fourth from the right, poses with her team after completing Bushmaster, a Uniformed Services University of the Health
Sciences field practicum held in May. Hua is a first-generation Vietnamese-American who has wanted to become a physician since she was 11 years old.
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Clara Hua)

She knew she wanted to go to medical school and even in sixth grade was familiar with USU. When the time came to begin looking for medical schools, she remembered USU’s school of medicine and applied. Ultimately, she decided on USU because of its reputation for excellence and a desire to serve her country.

“It’s a good school, it’s a free education, and you are dedicating your life to service,” Hua said. “It’s a unique experience, so I just went for it. I wouldn’t have turned down this decision for anything. Truly it’s been unique and great in all the ways possible.”

Hua graduated with an interest in general surgery, hoping to get into trauma or vascular surgery in the future. Hua said her parents are excited that she has become a United States Navy physician.

“Since I was 11 years old, I knew I was going to be a doctor, specifically a surgeon, and here I am,” Hua said. “It ended up being everything I wanted.”