Volunteer Review: Abigail S., Nursing School Elective in Vietnam
I am a children’s nursing student, currently studying at the University of the West of England. As part of my third year, my course allows me to undertake an elective placement. I decided to undertake the placement with a friend, Sam, who is doing the same course as me, as I was nervous about traveling on my own. We used Projects Abroad to help us organize our elective placement and they were so receptive and accommodating to our needs.
Sam and I both wanted to experience the similarities and differences of nursing and the healthcare system in the two different countries. We specifically chose Vietnam because after having traveled to other countries in Asia, Vietnam was always somewhere that we both wanted to explore.
In the airport, before the flight, the reality of the situation set in and we found it both exciting and terrifying at the same time. We were about to fly 17 hours away, to a country we had never been to, to work in a hospital and within a healthcare system that we knew nothing about.
Arriving in Vietnam
When we arrived in Vietnam, the excitement was unreal. We were about to start the experience of a lifetime! We were taken to the volunteer house, where we would stay for the next four weeks, and here we met Riyaad, our Volunteer Coordinator. Riyaad was amazing! He gave us a tour of the local area, took us to purchase a local sim card and, after seeing the crazy amount of motorbikes and traffic, taught us how to safely cross the roads!
Also staying in our volunteer house were other students, studying other courses. We got to know these people really well and I found it really enjoyable to come home and hear about the experiences the other volunteers had that day.
My Nursing Elective
For our placement, we were placed in three different hospitals over the course of four weeks. We spent one week in The National Hospital of Acupuncture, in the children’s department. Our role here was mainly observational. We shadowed various doctors, learning about the techniques of giving acupuncture, the evidence behind it and the specific conditions they treat. We were also able to experience what it felt like ourselves – the doctors put needles into our arms, faces and heads!
In the afternoons, we opened the entertainment room, allowing the children to come and play. This felt really rewarding, knowing we were providing so much fun and happiness to the children who were admitted to the hospital for weeks or months. The doctors here were really friendly, providing us with many interesting reading materials, and even taking us out for lunch!
The next two weeks of our placement were spent in Viet Duc Hospital, the national surgical hospital, in the ‘department of infantile and new-born surgery’. Our role in this hospital was to shadow the nurses on the drugs and dressing rounds, and occasionally accompany the patients and observe the surgery they were having.
This hospital was the biggest culture shock for me. The hospital had no privacy screens between the beds, and when the hospital was busy, they would put up to three patients in one bed! Our duty as a nurse was also different. The usual role as a UK nurse involves washing, changing and carrying out the basic needs for the patient. In Vietnam however, this is the family’s role. I did, however, feel that this worked really well, giving the nurses much more time for tasks such as paperwork, stocktaking and patient procedures.
For our final week, we were placed in The National Hospital of Traditional Medicine, in an adult’s ward. We requested this placement, due to us wanting to get more hands on with our care and practices. This placement really developed our clinical skills. We were taught more about the techniques of acupuncture and were able to help treat the adult patients. We were also taught and allowed to practice the technique of cupping and acupressure massage.
Projects Abroad organized a translator for us throughout all of our different hospital placements. This made communicating and asking questions with the hospital staff really easy and by the end of the four weeks, we had made really great friendships with our three translators. We also had weekly language lessons, which were so useful and also really hilarious as we couldn’t understand the difference in tone! We thought we were saying “Chào” – meaning hello, however our tone was actually saying “Cháo” – meaning porridge!
We spent the weekends traveling around Vietnam to ensure we got the most out of our time there. On the first weekend, we traveled to Sapa, where we trekked for over six hours a day and stayed in a homestay for the night. The homestay was shared with around 20 other travelers, all from different parts of the world. We all had a home-cooked dinner together and drank lots of Vietnamese rice wine (also known as ‘happy water’).
On the second weekend, we traveled to Ha Long Bay. We stayed on the boat overnight, climbed to one of the highest points, visited a pearl farm, kayaked and spent some time on a beachy area.
On the third weekend, we traveled to Ninh Binh. Here, we visited a place called ‘Tam Coc’ where we were rowed through caves by a lovely Vietnamese woman. We also rode bicycles through beautiful scenery before finishing the day with a huge buffet.
On the final weekend, we decided that we needed a rest from all the crazy adventures we’d had. We decided to fly down to Dang An and get the bus to Hoi An, where we stayed at a four-star beach hotel and relaxed all weekend.
After four weeks of living in the busy city of Hanoi and eating insane amounts of Pho and Bun Cha, I think that we were both very ready to return to the UK. We were, however, very upset to leave. We had made life-long friendships here and had made the most amazing memories. It was sad that we had to leave it all behind.
If ever I got the opportunity to do an elective placement – or anything similar – again, I would jump at the chance. It truly was the experience of a lifetime.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.