SACRAMENTO — A Garden Grove woman trained as a doctor in Vietnam has been approved to practice medicine in California, ending her seven-year battle to prove to state officials that her education and training met U.S. standards, state officials said Wednesday.
Le Dao, who has worked as an intern, resident and research assistant at the UCI Medical Center for more than five years, was approved Tuesday by a special committee established through legislation sponsored by Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim).
Dao and another Vietnamese-trained physician certified by the committee were then also approved by a panel of the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance, according to Kenneth J. Wagstaff, the board's executive director.
The two will get their licenses after they pay a fee and submit a photograph to the board, Wagstaff said.
"There may be some routine things they have to do," he said. "As soon as the licensing can be mechanically done, it will be done."
Dao, who was trained as a pediatrician, said Wednesday that the action was a "big relief."
"For the past two months, I didn't even want to think about it," she said. "I just let it go."
Dao said she hopes to continue working at the medical center rather than begin a private practice.
"I'm going to stay here for now," she said.
Dr. Quynh Kieu, a Fountain Valley pediatrician who has led the fight for Dao and others in similar straits, said she was "very pleased" by the decision.
"They have been on hold for so long, and they had been disappointed over and over again," she said. "They were in shock for a few minutes before it donned on them that this was the end, that they were really going to get the license and that was it."
Dao's odyssey began a decade ago, when she left Vietnam as one of the "boat people"--refugees from the Communist regime who fled their native country aboard small boats, carrying hardly anything but the clothes on their backs.
Among the possessions Dao left behind was her diploma from the University of Saigon--renamed Ho Chi Minh University after the fall of the pro-U.S. Vietnamese government in 1975.
The Vietnamese government has steadfastly refused to cooperate with U.S. efforts to obtain copies of diplomas and other documentation of students' medical training.
Although about 1,000 University of Saigon graduates without complete proof of their training were certified to practice medicine by a committee of the American Medical Assn., Dao was denied similar treatment because she did not graduate until 1977. By then, most of the faculty members who could vouch for the
students' training had fled the country.
Royce's bill, passed by the Legislature late last year and signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian, created a second "faculty in exile" committee to review the credentials of about 30 Vietnamese refugees trained as doctors in Saigon. The new law allows the state medical board to reject the committee's recommendations but places the burden on it to prove that the committee acted without acceptable evidence.
Meeting in Sacramento, the committee on Tuesday established the standards that it will follow and then quickly approved applications from Dao and Tao Nguyen, who is working on a fellowship at Martin Luther King Hospital in Los Angeles, Kieu said. The medical board's credentials committee also gave its approval to the two doctors.
Two other refugees who moved to Illinois after abandoning hope of being licensed in California were given provisional approval. One must still pass an oral examination to obtain his license, while the other was given permission to begin post-graduate training, after which he too will have to pass the oral examination.
Royce said word of Dao's pending licensing was "great news."
"She had a long wait," Royce said. "When I think back over all she's been through, the fine work she did at UC Irvine and the fine marks she received on her exam scores, I am elated that after several years of waiting she will finally be given her medical license."