By Sara Bondell - May 12, 2021
Growing up the child of diplomats in Beijing, China, Dr. Marilyn Bui was always influenced by Western culture. She knew one day she would go to the U.S. to get a higher education.
She originally thought that education would be in the communications field—she was involved in the school newspaper and broadcasting—but changed her path to medicine in high school.
“I wanted to do something noble and healing,” said Bui. “I didn’t want to be the person on the sidelines, I wanted to talk about the profession from the inside.”
When Bui got to medical school, she quickly felt out of her comfort zone. Her peers were mostly children of physicians, nurses, or scientists while she had little health care experience. She changed the way she studied and was one of 30 students to be accepted into a pilot program that taught the curriculum in English. After graduating with honors, she set her sights on the U.S.
Bui came to the states for a PhD program at the University of Florida. For the second time, she had to start as a student, encountering new challenges. “My classmates were mostly American graduates who were very good in critical thinking and quick in answering the professor’s questions. Original, evidenced-based and collaborative approaches were also promoted. This was a big change for me compared to the learning style that I was familiar with in China,” said Bui.
Bui was able to adapt once again and graduated with honors. She then passed the exams that deemed her medical degree equivalent to a U.S. medical degree and began pathology residency.
After nearly 17 years of training, Bui joined Moffitt Cancer Center, where she would eventually become a senior member of the Pathology Department, scientific director of the Analytic Microscopy Core, section head of Bone and Soft Tissue Pathology and the program director of Cytopathology Fellowship. Her mission is to provide quality patient care and spread awareness about the importance of pathology in medicine.
In addition to her expertise, Bui is also a world leader in digital pathology. In her leadership roles in various pathology societies, she promotes a culture of respect and inclusion. She would also like to see more Asian and diverse leaders and greater efforts to curb unconscious bias.
“There is an unconscious bias that Asian-Americans are somehow not equal to Americans,” said Bui. “Judging a book by its cover cannot be more wrong. Combining the essence of the best from Eastern and Western cultures to impactfully contribute to society epitomizes the spirit of true Americans.”
Despite the need to overcome biases, Bui is still optimistic. “This country has shown me so much hospitality and embraced me,” she said. “I do not consider myself a victim compared with many others, but I want to speak out because there are a lot of people behind me who need to have an easier time than I did.”
She feels that optimism most when she looks at her daughter, who is about to start her fourth year of medical school.
“Through my journey I experienced so many different transformations and came out stronger,” said Bui. “I hope she will also embrace the challenges along the way and understand that even if you come from privilege, you don’t squander the good fortune, you make something great of yourself to benefit the society in an impactful way.”