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2023-12-02 22:48

From a Dishwasher to the Leading Musculoskeletal Specialist

Any doctors who specialize in osteoporosis will know about the "Garvan Fracture Risk Calculator". Prof. Nguyen Van Tuan is the father of this Calculator.

The life-changing turning point

Having become successful and renowned, Prof. Nguyen stated in an interview with The Guardian (a UK newspaper) that his life-changing opportunity came from Georgina Ramsay, who hired him to work as a dishwasher for St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Australia. It was 1982, just a few weeks after he had arrived in this country.


In 2017, he was awarded a doctoral degree in science from New South Wales University for his contribution to the field of osteoporosis for over a quarter of a century. In an interview with The Guardian after receiving this degree, he recollected his job interview at the hospital's kitchen. It was his first interview and also the fortunate turning point of his life. "All I needed was a chance of employment. That job helped me adapt to Australia." - he said.

After reading a hospital notice seeking a kitchen hand, he went to St Vincent's with hopes of finding a job in the kitchen. During his interview with Mrs. Ramsay, he fibbed about having two years of prior experience in the kitchen. He explained that he had to do so because in the past when he admitted to having no experience, no one would hire him.

He was hired the next day. However, after two weeks, he felt uneasy with his white lie so he knocked on Mrs.Ramsay's door and told her the truth. "I know", Mrs. Ramsay replied, "I checked your background, you've only been to Australia for a few weeks. There is no way you have 2 years of experience, but I wanted to give you a chance."

Decades later, from a dishwasher, he became a senior scientist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, where he led the Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study (DOES) - the longest-running osteoporosis study in the world. His genetic and epidemiological studies contributed to the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of osteoporosis.

No money, no understanding of the language

In 1981, Prof. Nguyen Van Tuan immigrated to Australia. Professor Nguyen recalls the challenging early days in a strange country, with only $30 in his pocket from a charity fund. At that time, he had no job and was not fluent in the language. He only knew a few English words and faced a lot of obstacles while learning the language.

He came to the Dymocks bookstore in Sydney to buy an Oxford dictionary. The bookseller didn't understand what dictionary he wanted to buy. In the end, he had to write down the word "Oxford" and only then did the bookseller understand and show him how to pronounce it right. He got the dictionary and started his learning journey from there.

Prof. Nguyen said he is still learning English. After many years of working two jobs, day and night, he returned to college to continue his studies. He received a master's degree in statistics from Macquarie University, and then a doctorate in medicine from the University of New South Wales.

After many years of research, Prof. Nguyen is now a senior scientist, leading multiple research projects. His highest academic degree from the University of New South Wales is a recognition of his significant and globally impactful contributions to understanding and preventing osteoporosis.

300 scientific works

The life and career of Prof. Nguyen revolve around the premises of St Vincent's Hospital. While working as a kitchen hand and a dishwasher at the hospital, he also pursued postgraduate studies in biostatistics and epidemiology at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney.

In 1990, he returned to St Vincent's University to pursue a doctoral thesis (medical, genetics on osteoporosis) and the Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study commenced by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

After 3 years as an Associate Professor of Medicine at WSU School of Medicine (USA), he returned to the Garvant Institute to oversee the Genetic Epidemiology of Osteoporosis Lab. Currently, he is a Senior Principal Fellow of the institute. Before that, on October 9, 2021, he left the Garvan Institute (after 30 years of service) to strengthen his research activities at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

In 2008, he was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship by the NHMRC. In the same year, he was promoted to full Professor at the UNSW School of Population Health and St Vincent's Clinical School. He was also appointed the Professor of Predictive Medicine at UTS and the Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Medicine Sydney, University of Notre Dame, Australia.

In addition to his degree in Biostatistics, he also holds two doctoral degrees in science and medicine. He is the 33rd scholar to be awarded a Doctor of Science based on his outstanding contributions to osteoporosis research and the assessment of fracture risk due to osteoporosis. In 2020, he was awarded a Fellowship of NHMRC Leadership Level 3 (formerly known as the Australian Fellowship) to continue his research on the genetics of osteoporosis.

Professor Nguyen has published approximately 300 scientific research papers, with 70% focused on genetics and 30% on epidemiology. In addition to medical research, he also spends time writing about literature and commenting on scientific and social issues in Vietnamese newspapers.

On January 26, 2022, Prof. Nguyen was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) by the Governor-General of Australia, representing Queen Elizabeth, for his "significant contributions to medical research, particularly in the field of osteoporosis and fracture prevention, and to higher education."

In the nearly 18 years since he moved to Australia, Prof. Nguyen has been unable to return to his homeland of Vietnam. However, nowadays, he frequently visits Vietnam and contributes to the field. He has established a bone and muscle research laboratory at Ton Duc Thang University, conducting a new research project called the "Vietnamese Osteoporosis Study."

"I enjoy learning and conducting research, but I want to do something to help everyone out there. Can I make a difference in their lives? I always ask myself that question."

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