Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month: Spotlight on Dr. Trina La, Senior VP of Pharmacy & Financial Support

Dr. Trina La, Senior VP of Pharmacy, was eight years old when she had to board an airplane in the chaos of an emergency evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. Her entire family had to make their way through hundreds of desperate people at the airport gates, shouting and crying to be let in. They knew something very bad would happen when the country fell to the North. Dr. La, ever after, counted herself as one of the lucky ones.

Trina’s father, Lt. Colonel in the air force, personally flew his family and other refugees to safety before reaching Texas. So regardless of the work he had to undertake in Texas to keep his family afloat, Trina’s father instilled in her and her siblings the sense that hard work and commitment could overcome any obstacle. In this respect, her story is not only a testament to the refugee experience, but virtually every immigrant family coming to America.

Grit and resilience became a hallmark of Dr. La. For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Legacy is spotlighting those among us who not only celebrate their heritage but the lessons it instilled in them and that they carry through their work at Legacy today.

Trina looked up to her father, who told her “we will speak the American language and assimilate. We will be Americans. And that’s what we did.” Trina and her siblings were “taught to be good citizens, don’t cause trouble, get a voice and vote, and give back to the community.”

“The difference between and good leader and a great leader is to lead your team where they have never been” was a quote Dr. La’s father loved to quote from Henry Kissinger. You must lead and preserve democracy in our daily lives as well in our professional work. The family, despite not always having the warmest of receptions, volunteered a lot in their community. The family, once having received food and Thanksgiving turkeys from the local food bank, later volunteered at the same facility.

Despite being a high-status wife and mother back home, Trina’s mother buckled down to work. “She made $1.19 an hour in 1975. Gas was 47 cents a gallon, and there were lines around the block.” It was not the easiest time to make a new beginning in a country still reeling from the loss of a faraway war. We shopped for school clothes at goodwill, and also a family recipient of those turkeys from the food banks.

Trina’s ‘tiger mom’ – like many mothers raised in a Confucian tradition – had big dreams for her kids. She believed that the medical profession was the epitome of professional success. Asian moms sometimes get a bad rap in the United States, but Trina knew that her mother was preparing her for rough waters ahead. “I am not as tough as the older generation!” she says with her typical serene smile. Trina wasn’t quite so fond of blood and medical goop, but she was drawn to pharmacy science. Luckily, she loved it.

So how did Trina come to Legacy almost a year ago? “I went into the medical field to give back to the community.” It seemed to combine her family’s passion for volunteering with medicine. Indeed, it was her first volunteering experience that led her here. “In 1987 I was volunteering with patients with HIV when everybody was running away from AIDS, at the Bearing Clinic.” She felt she grew – both as a pharmacy newbie and as a person. So, when Legacy contacted me last July, she was excited at the growth trajectory of the pharmacy.

“I said, ‘this must be a sign from God. I started off volunteering for these patients as a college student and now you’re asking me to come back with a paycheck!” Basically, the decision to come home to Legacy and Houston was a no-brainer. She arrived from the Northeast to witness the birth of her grandson – and a new phase of her life with Legacy.

How has her first year been? “I am l loving every minute! Here we care for patients deeply. Normally you wouldn’t go into this field and get to encounter this kind of mission, with a lot of uninsured patients and at 100-400% below poverty level. Seeing that we help underserved patients makes me wake up very happy every day that my life has meaning and a purpose.”

At Legacy, we celebrate Dr. La and her AAPI colleagues. As a majority-minority organization, we honor the diverse backgrounds of all our clinicians and support staff.

At Legacy, Healthcare is a right and not a privilege.