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Mychelle Phan - Physical Therapy in Vietnam

Weekend travelsThe last time I visited Vietnam was 12 years ago in Saigon. I traveled to Vietnam to make a connection with my heritage. This was my second visit to Vietnam and I was there to implement my goal of becoming a Physical Therapist and to help as many people as possible. I came to the Institute of Acupuncture, also known as Bien Vien Cham Cuu, to gain hands-on experience and improve my knowledge of Vietnamese medical terminologies to better help my own Vietnamese community at home.

The Institute of Acupuncture is located in the middle of Hanoi. The stark difference between this hospital and American hospitals was evident when I first stepped into the hospital. While the goals of both places are the same, the Institute of Acupuncture must perform treatments without many of the equipments and instruments that the American counterparts have to work with. It is inspiring how the Vietnamese therapists there can still perform their tasks thoroughly and efficiently.

Giving a presentationEveryone appreciated my assistance and was willing to teach me the techniques they use to help their patients. Every morning from eight to eleven, the patients went through acupuncture therapy. During that time I observed the doctors and therapists in the pediatrics department poking needles into the children’s body parts. Numerous of children had needles in their faces, backs, arms, and legs. Like all children, the very sight of needles elicited crying and screaming.

Afterwards, I observe the adult department and was shown pictures of patients before and after therapy. Most of the patients exhibited paralysis on a single side of their face or body. Many patients slowly recover after days or weeks of the treatment depending on the case. It is extremely gratifying to see patients gradually improve every day after therapy.

With a patientAfter eleven, everyone takes a three-hour break. They can choose to go to lunch or take a nap in their office. When I am invited to lunch by the therapists, I get the opportunity to see how the different families run their restaurants. Some have actual brick and mortar restaurants while others simply set up tables and chairs on the streets. However, I have found that the best food is found in the latter restaurants. The food has an authentic taste, rich with flavor, and is similar to home cooked meals. The restaurant may not have nice tables or chairs but the families are always kind and provide friendly services.

After the break, everyone heads back to work. Exercise and massage techniques were performed on the patients. This was the opportunity for me to learn new techniques. I shadowed the therapists while they do their work and get to experience their skills first hand as their subject. They also allowed me to perform the skills I learn on patients as well. In the two weeks I have been here, I learned many different treatments for the body.

On the ward

This internship has helped me prepare for graduate school and my future career as a Physical Therapist. Every day I leave work with both a sense of accomplishment and a desire to learn more the next day. The hands-on experience in this field is invaluable and being able to observe patients improving is as gratifying as it can get. I have also become a source of valuable information for translating Vietnamese terms to English and sharing my clinic experiences in America to the Vietnamese doctors and therapists.

I have gained the confidence and courage to take the initiative to help others get back on their feet. Whether I am helping someone with chronic back problems or helping someone restore their full potential, one thing is certain: I want to make a difference and this internship has helped me take the first step.

Mychelle Phan

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