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Triple alumna followed her dream from Vietnam to a doctor of nursing practice degree

Know What You Want and Persevere

Jun 14, 2023 | Feature, Spring 2023

When Tina Bui-Burgos ripped open her acceptance letter from The University of New Mexico, she says “it was absolutely one of the best moments in my life.”

It was the early 2000s, and she was 32, newly divorced with full custody of four children – ages 4 to 12 – and she had been working full-time at a jewelry company.

But a job in the medical field was her lifelong dream. She had held that dream close, even while fleeing her native Vietnam in the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a perilous boat journey and then making her way as an immigrant in the United States.

“It was not only my childhood dream, but I had to work hard to get my children out of the situation we were in and do better in our lives,” says Bui-Burgos, who is now a hospice nurse and an Albuquerque restaurant owner. “I always felt like I didn’t get on that boat and risk my life to not pursue my dream.”

The boat was a wooden one that Bui-Burgos’ mother placed her into so she could leave Vietnam for a Malaysian refugee camp, with the eventual destination of her father’s home in California.

Harris Smith headshot

Tina Bui-Burgos

“because it’s not always going to be easy. It can be really rugged, but somehow, I managed to do it.”

Artist rendering of the new Art Building on Central Avenue

On the journey she was a 10-year-old “orphan,” Bui-Burgos says, with only neighbors but no family accompanying her. It was a trip of horrors that included being robbed by pirates three times.

“Two girls just a little bit older than me were kidnapped and probably thrown overboard, because they were never heard from again,” she says.

Those experiences underlie Bui-Burgos’ determination to make a new life and to take on increasingly difficult professional challenges.

Bui-Burgos, now 52, does nothing halfway.

She is a three-time alumna of The University of New Mexico College of Nursing, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2007, her master’s in 2011 and her doctor of nursing practice in 2021.

Her education spanned nearly two decades, including a few gaps, and her resume includes stints in UNM Hospital’s Neuroscience ICU, pediatrics, internal medicine, gynecology and a variety of other family practice settings.

One of her favorite work experiences was at Santo Domingo Pueblo, where she spent three years in the clinic as a way to give back to her adopted state.

“I just felt like there were not enough providers going into rural areas to take care of Indigenous people,” she says. “I wanted to bridge that gap.”

She also has created the Bui-Burgos Endowed Scholarship in Nursing through the UNM Foundation, in the same spirit of honoring those who have helped her through the years. The scholarship is aimed at single parents seeking a nursing career, she says.
Meanwhile, she recently was named to a committee serving the New Mexico State Board of Nursing.

Bui-Burgos’ current hospice work for a private home health care company is part time, because she also loves the restaurant business and has owned Relish, a sandwich shop near Uptown, for the past 10 years.

Her drive and dedication sometimes baffle her now-grown kids.

“My kids constantly say, ‘Mom, I don’t even know how you did it because I’m only taking care of myself, and I can’t even figure out how to go from my work to the gym, and my house is a mess.’”

She tells them that success starts with knowing what you really want before settling on your dreams and goals. “At 10 years old, I knew that I was going to seek a better life,” she says.

The second part, she says, is to stay organized and persevere, “because it’s not always going to be easy. It can be really rugged, but somehow, I managed to do it.”

Spring 2023 Mirage Magazine Features


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