Volunteer Review: Gabriel S., Medicine in Vietnam
My trip to Vietnam was memorable and life changing in so many ways. First and foremost, as a Vietnamese American that grew up never knowing any of his Vietnamese relatives traveling abroad allowed me to explore the cultural heritage that I never knew. The organization that made my trip possible, Projects Abroad was incredibly helpful throughout my entire experience. They provided me transportation to and from the airport, necessary colloquial knowledge to survive in a foreign country, comfortable housing quarters and a connection with the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine located in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Volunteering in Vietnam
Throughout my time at the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine I learned many things, all of which helped me develop a better idea of what it means to be a good physician from both a western and non-western viewpoint. I was placed in the hemorrhoid surgery department where I assisted in over 25 colorectal surgeries and observed even more.
In the mornings, I spent my time assisting the department’s nurses in giving injections and checking in on patients post-operation. The atmosphere was very relaxed and everyone in the department was super friendly and helpful. Surprisingly, the language barrier was not as big as I had previously anticipated. Roughly 10% of the Vietnamese people speak English, but it seems everyone wants to learn.
The doctors at the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine, I believe, truly made my experience unique. From the very beginning they treated me with respect. In fact, the head of the department, Dr Cuong, invited me to visit his family in rural Vietnam so that I could gain a larger knowledge base about Vietnamese life. In addition, he took me to lunch every single day and offered up his office for naps in the afternoon.
I learned a great deal from this wonderful man. Just the way he interacted with his patients was inspiring and commendable. You could tell that he really cared by his body language, maintained eye contact, and caring tone of voice. Even though I could not understand what he was saying most of the time because I couldn’t speak the language he spoke to his patients, he would explain what was happening to me after and always made sure I understood what was going on.
My medical placement
In addition to learning a great deal of specific detail about gastrointestinal health, I also learned a lot about traditional medicine and its advantages and disadvantages. In my spare time at the hospital, I would travel to the library and read books on herbal medicine and by doing so I gained a deeper respect for the traditional method of delivering medicine. This was especially interesting to me because it does not get much attention in Western society which is contingent upon the use of pharmaceutical products.
In my mind, if a medicine works it is good and should be utilized. Traditional medicine has roots going back 3,000 years and if it has worked for this long I don’t see why Americans can’t adopt its principles. I personally witnessed first-hand herbal remedies work for multiple patients and even tried it for myself to solve a stomach issue I was having as I adjusted to the Vietnamese cuisine.
Overall, I learned a lot while in Vietnam. Choosing Projects Abroad was one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my entire life! I discovered a great deal about my heritage, became a believer in traditional medicine, and learned what it takes to be a good doctor. All of this has had a significant impact on the man I have become today and, someday, when I am a physician I hope to utilize what I have learned in this phenomenal experience to give my patients better healthcare.
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.