Project Description

Superhero in a Lab Coat

Phuong — Pharmacist, Fourth Street Clinic

When you walk into the on-site pharmacy at Fourth Street Clinic, it feels like walking into a small-town apothecary. Past the pastel-colored walls and big welcome sign is the prescription drop-off window where you are greeted with the biggest smile in town.

It is not often that a pharmacist is awaiting you with such a kindly invite to fill your meds, but Phuong, a staff pharmacist, makes it a priority to help every client feel special. Phuong styles a clean crew cut and a traditional white lab coat. He also doesn’t look a minute older than 30; he is as fit as a fiddle and full of energy. The whole dispensary seems to listen keenly for his frequent jokes, followed by roars of laughter.

Everyone in the Fourth Street Clinic Pharmacy is smiling, and Phuong knows why.

Phuong seems to live his life according to Kundera’s concept of the “lightness of being”; or perhaps it is carpe diem. Whatever motivates this calm, yet joyful, demeanor could be linked to Phuong’s surprising secret talents.

As a young man, Phuong began working as a pharmacist at a private pharmacy, but 5 or 6 years into his career, he felt obliged to help people in some other way. He changed his career, and for 15 years he taught others in the art of taekwondo. Phuong is a taekwondo master, of the Olympic sparring variety, and he trained his students from infancy to mastery. He is the “teacher that teaches for life.”

He poured his heart into teaching until, one day, he “looked under his mattress and couldn’t find a penny.” Although poor, he knew his work for others was not complete. By coincidence, he learned about an opportunity as a volunteer pharmacist at Fourth Street Clinic. It wasn’t volunteering at the clinic that reminded him why he had once raised his right hand to become a pharmacist, but rather an experience from one impressionable day. He was cycling along the Jordan River with the pharmacy director at the time, when they came upon a particularly needy and injured fellow. The pharmacy director aided the man, hugged him, and bestowed on him a deep kindness.

Now, after 6 years as a staff pharmacist, his days are spent filling prescriptions, educating patients about their medications, providing dosage information and keeping track of everything in a database. Every day, the pharmacy fills an average of 275 prescriptions in fewer hours than an average pharmacy. But according to Phuong, those are just pharmacy tasks; his real job is to be a friend. “Every patient, every person, is the best friend I never met. Treat them like you will never see them again.”

When asked to describe himself in one sentence, he replies, “I am a man of contrasts.” And that he is! Ask Phuong about hobbies and you receive a shocking list of talents: portrait painter, sailor, taekwondo and hapkido master, rock climber and watch repairman. Many talents aside, Phuong is special because he treats everyone he meets as special. For him, it is about meeting that patient who really needs help and returns to the pharmacy a new person. Seeing the life-transformation of a person is what he feels makes life worth living. And sometimes, all that is needed for a life transformation is a smile from an unknown friend.

At the heart of our community are people like Phuong and organizations like Fourth Street Clinic. Here, a staff of 50 and a volunteer network that contributes 8,289 service hours per year serve 4,700 homeless men, women and children with over 30,000 medical, mental health, dental, substance abuse and case management visits.