• By Dana Sparks

Sharing Mayo Clinic: From gangs to taking care of others

April 28, 2019

Editor's note: Marked with tattoos and scars from bullet wounds, Sophorn Khoun doesn't look like the average health care worker. As a child running with a Southeast Asian gang in Salt Lake City's poorest neighborhoods, he couldn't fathom that one day he'd be working to heal others.

But when Sophorn was 20, he extricated himself from gang life and built a new one for himself in Rochester, Minnesota. In 2014, he was given an opportunity to pursue a path toward helping people when he received a position at Mayo Clinic. The job introduced him to individuals, ideas and opportunities that didn't exist in his previous life.

In December 2018, Sophorn's hope to help people heal took another step forward when he received his advanced nursing assistant certificate from Rochester Community and Technical College through the Bridges to Healthcare Program. The program is a collaboration among Mayo Clinic, Rochester Community and Technical College, Workforce Development and Hawthorne Education Center. In this story, Sophorn shares how he left the gang life to pursue a career in health care.

By Sophorn Khoun

I grew up during the 1990s and lived in the projects of the inner city of West Valley City, Utah. Our neighbors were other Cambodians, Vietnamese and Laotians who'd migrated after wars. I was exposed to gangs growing up. At that moment, it was cool. But more than that, I was more inspired by the love, loyalty and unity within the neighborhood. We had so much love and loyalty and didn't know how to project it in the most efficient way. We integrated it into street philosophy. We had no guidance, like a serpent with no head.

Gangs really didn't guide me in the right direction. I was young, and it is nothing to be proud of. When I was 16, on Sept. 11, 2000, I got shot four times during a gang shootout at a nearby pool hall. I lost a lot of blood. I broke a rib and, fortunately, it didn't puncture my lung. I got one in the neck. It was a skid. The one in the arm went right through. The one in my leg — luckily my wallet was there — hit the wallet and barely nicked me. I was in the hospital for two to three weeks. Read the rest of Sophorn's story.

This article originally appeared on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.