Nelly Tan


Inspired by her parents’ sacrifices, Dr. Nelly Tan is passionate about guiding future physicians

By Holly Ober

Nelly Tan, 39, is an abdominal radiologist, associate professor, and associate program director of the diagnostic radiology residency program at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. But above all else, Dr. Tan is a Highlander to her core. She received her bachelor’s degree and Doctor of Medicine at the former UC Riverside/UCLA Biomedical Sciences Program in 2004 and created and led the UCR School of Medicine’s radiology clerkship program for three years before moving to Arizona.

In pursuit of better opportunities, Dr. Tan immigrated with her family to the United States from Myanmar when she was 7 years old after the country became politically unstable. She lost her father shortly after, and she and her four siblings were raised by her mother, whose ultimate purpose was to ensure her children had educational opportunities. Her mother started a small business from home catering Burmese food, which Dr. Tan helped prepare through middle school and high school until she left for college. During her senior year, Dr. Tan was accepted to all her top colleges, including UCLA and UC Berkeley, but UCR’s environment, people, and support services stood out.

“When I toured UCR as a high school student, current biomedical sciences students told me how great the program was — plus campus was so beautiful, clean, and welcoming,” she said. “I felt part of the family here. It was the best choice I made as a high school student.”

The three years of undergraduate studies at UC Riverside were an incredible time of growth. Dr. Tan has fond memories of the University Honors Program led by Kathryn Jones and feeling a part of a larger UCR family. During her final two years at UCR — the first two years of medical school — Dr. Tan co-founded the Student Run Health Clinic, or SRHC, for uninsured patients in downtown Riverside. Since then, the free SRHC has expanded and been incorporated into the UCR medical school.


After graduating, Dr. Tan matched in urology at Yale-New Haven Hospital but was drawn to the powerful imaging approaches offered by radiology that offered noninvasive diagnosis and minimally invasive interventions to treat patients. She left urology in her second year of training and switched her subspeciality to radiology. Dr. Tan completed her radiology residency and abdominal radiology fellowship training at UCLA. While in residency, Dr. Ameae Walker, a professor at UCR, reached out to Dr. Tan to teach urology to the UCR medical students. Dr. Tan found tremendous joy in teaching and taught UCR students throughout her training.

When Dr. Tan became a professor, she assumed the radiology clerkship director role for UCR and created a new hybrid clerkship curriculum. She also recruited subspeciality radiologists to enable high-caliber education. The results of this novel clerkship approach are published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. Dr. Tan went on to mentor multiple UCR medical students every year and helped them match into radiology residency programs.

“I think the UCR students got the best radiology education,” she said. “The most gratifying thing is to see your mentee succeed, and I was so proud of my UCR mentees.”

In Dr. Tan’s third year as junior faculty, Dr. Amy Hara, whom Dr. Tan met through the Society of Abdominal Radiology, invited her to join Mayo Clinic Arizona.

Dr. Tan feels tremendous gratitude to her parents for making these opportunities possible for her and her siblings. She is paying it forward through educating future generations of physicians, training future radiologists, making new discoveries in prostate cancer imaging, and improving quality of care for patients.

Dr. Tan’s message for success adapts the words of Buddha: “Work hard. Put your efforts in the right places. Do it for the right reasons. Befriend good people. Continue to grow and learn. Practice mindfulness.”

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