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First-generation college grad wants to work in hospital quality improvement

By Allyson Bird
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

Annie Tsui grew up working at her family’s Chinese restaurant near the Charleston Air Force Base, the daughter of immigrants who spoke little English.

Her father finished high school in Canton, China, and her mother took some classes, but neither parent made it to college. “Basic education is different from elementary education in the U.S.,” Annie said. “You have to pay for it there.”

Annie Tsui celebrates her graduation from the MUSC College of Health Professions with her parents, Nancy and Alexander, on May 17, 2013.

Her father came to the United States 30 years ago to set up a new life for his family, and Annie’s mother brought their 8-month-old daughter over in 1987. Annie learned English in elementary school. 

This month her parents watched her receive a Masters in Health Administration diploma from the Medical University of South Carolina. Annie received the HCA/Frank DeMarco III Endowed Scholarship and an Exchange Club of Charleston scholarship to help with her studies.

“My parents have done so much to help with my education,” she said. “People who set up scholarships also made a big impact. When you have to work, you don’t have as much time to focus on school. When you have scholarships, it lessens that burden.”

Annie met Karen DeMarco, widow of hospital administrator and student mentor Frank DeMarco, during a scholarship brunch. “It’s nice to know that there are people out there who believe in you and are rooting you on,” Annie said. “It inspires you to want to do the same.”

Karen DeMarco said her late husband made it his mission to help students succeed in their careers. He also wanted to ensure that young women received the same opportunities as young men.

“My husband loved the idea that he could pass on the baton, so to speak,” Mrs. DeMarco said. “He loved the students, and he felt that it was important to share the experience of being able to do what you love. He would have been so proud that Annie received his scholarship.”

When she was a little girl, Annie wanted to become a doctor – until she realized that her talents aligned with an analytical profession more than a clinical career. She worked at her family’s restaurant until she received a scholarship to attend Winthrop University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2009.

“It wasn’t a good year to get a job,” Annie said. “But at the same time, I was looking into graduate school, and it was expensive.”

She worked for year in customer service for a publishing company and then became an account manager support specialist, but she still wanted to go back to school. She considered hospital administration and made up her mind after helping her parents with doctors’ visits.

“My parents don’t speak much English, and I realized how little I knew about health care by going to appointments with them,” she said.  I understood their frustration.”

She applied to MUSC in February of 2011, took the Graduate Management Admission Test and interviewed for the program and received her acceptance letter by March.

Annie hopes to work in quality or performance improvement. She begins a fellowship in hospital administration at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center this summer, where she will train alongside administrators throughout the hospital.

With graduate school behind her, Annie looks forward to finding her professional niche. She also wants to spend more time with her family and to learn how to prepare her parents’ recipes from the restaurant where she spent her earliest years.