main article image
(Mai Khanh Tran)

She's a Scientist, She's an Immigrant, And She's Running For Congress

CARLY CASSELLA
4 APR 2018

When Mai Khanh Tran was just 9-years-old, a US marine carried her from the tarmac in San Francisco and onto the soil of her new home. He was the first American Mai Khanh had ever met.

 

"His compassion and his care will be forever imprinted on my heart. That's what's great about this country," Dr Tran told Science AF.

Escaping the fall of Saigon in 1975, Tran became one of the first DACA recipients (a deal that President Trump has promised to repeal).

Fully embracing the opportunities of her new home, Tran went on to study at Harvard - where she cleaned bathrooms as a janitor to make ends meet – before completing her medical degree at Dartmouth-Brown and her residency at UCLA.

Today, she has been practising as a paediatrician and medical researcher for almost 25 years.

"I know what it's like to work hard in this country and make the most of what we were given, and so when I see other immigrants not having that same welcoming reception, my heart breaks for them," she said.

At the start of 2017, Tran announced her candidacy for California's 39th Congressional District, joining a wave of scientists running for Congress in 2018.

As an immigrant herself, Tran finds the Trump administration's treatment of immigrants and refugees "purely inhumane" - but by no means is her candidacy based solely on immigration.

 

Like so many other Democrats running for Congress in 2018, Tran has a number of bones to pick with the Trump administration – and as a paediatrician, she has more than most.

Tran's goal is to unseat the Republican incumbent Ed Royce, who has been in office for almost 25 years, and who has voted with the Trump administration about 97 percent of the time.

"I find that I have been listening to the needs of my patients for the same amount of time he has been in Congress ignoring them," Tran told Science AF.

In 2015, Royce voted to defund Planned Parenthood. In 2017, he voted against funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and against the DREAM Act, which protects undocumented immigrant children. Last year, he also voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

"Ed is a total detriment to science and all the economic benefits of good science. He has voted against science, against health care, against data, and against information," said Tran.

As a paediatrician and medical researcher, Tran thinks she can do better.

"I think I bring to the table not just my skill as a doctor, but really the fact that I've been a small business owner who has dealt with all the intricacies of the health care system," she said.

Universal Health Care

After the 2016 election, Tran saw an immediate impact on the lives of her patients and their families. One of the first patients that Dr Tran saw after election night was a young girl with a brain tumor. The patient's family was terrified that under Trump's leadership they were going to lose their medical insurance.

"I felt the need to speak up for these people," she told Science AF.

 

"When the House repealed and replaced the Affordable Care Act, that really compelled me to run."

Like so many other doctors and medical professionals, Tran is "absolutely convinced" that health care is a basic human right.

"I think when it comes to the issue of health care and understanding a structure that is going to benefit everyone, a physician who is on the frontlines will be the most qualified," she said.

"I want to give my district the confidence that if they have someone who understands health care, who can speak it and really address it, they will feel confident they have someone who is advocating on their behalf."

If elected to Congress, Tran says the first step is to reinstate Obamacare's individual mandate – otherwise nearly 8 million Americans will voluntarily lose insurance in the next eight years.

Tran also wants to ensure that Medicaid, Medicare, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Planned Parenthood are all sufficiently funded.

"On a federal level, we need a structure where we either have a pathway towards Medicare for all, or something that gives more options in the exchanges. On a state level, something like a single payer system is reasonable," she told Science AF.

 

But for Tran, health care isn't just about seeing the doctor for a reasonable price, it's also about protecting innocent lives. As a paediatrician, she finds the prevalence of gun violence in the US absolutely unacceptable.

Despite a tragic school shooting in her district last year, the current representative, Ed Royce, has voted against several gun control measures. In the past, Royce has voted yes on decreasing gun waiting periods and he has voted for measures that make it much harder to sue gunmakers and sellers for misuse.

Unsurprisingly, Royce has received an A-rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

"When people resort to just prayers, condolences and empty speech, we need to have people in place to speak with science and data and drive," she said.

"We need to have funding and research to make sure we can combat the issue of gun violence. I really think we need to take this issue on with the same full drive and the same full understanding of data that we apply to healthcare."

Tran is running for Congress because she believes there's always an opportunity to emerge from a crisis stronger than ever.

Dr Tran has spent her career providing essential care for underprivileged people who have lost their voice. She says running for office is just another example of her service taken to the extreme.

Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.