Medical Student, Vietnam Field Trip 2014
I am an Australian-born Vietnamese who has had the chance to visit Vietnam on a number of occasions. Throughout my years, I have studied our culture to a large extent and communicated with Vietnamese people from diverse backgrounds. However, the one thing that has affected me most was seeing people in need and feeling helpless about being unable to ease their pain, unable to reassure someone that they will be okay and that they will recover. It is heartbreaking to be placed in a position where I am unable to relieve the suffering faced by those burdened with disease, poverty and impairment.
I acknowledge that I am very fortunate to have been blessed with good health, countless education opportunities and networks to potentiate my future career. Due to this, I believe I should give back to the wider community that has given so much to me.
Like many other medical students, my goals and ambitions were very vague at this moment. It felt like there was a long road ahead, a road inundated by fog and mist, completely blurred. The thought of becoming a medical professional one day was surreal and I could not picture what medicine would be like in the real world.
I knew I had an urge to go out there and volunteer myself but I had never thought the opportunity would arise. The moment I found out about VVPA, I took my chances and registered. Words cannot express my feelings towards this experience: fulfilling and life changing to say at the very least.
My trip to Vietnam was a lonely, yet exciting, 9-hour flight from Brisbane. I could not wait to finally arrive at the hotel and meet all the volunteers from across Australia. During my flight, questions began to bombard my thoughts. I didn’t know what was happening, it was all a mystery to me. What taxi am I going to take to get to the Hotel? What am I going to encounter during the volunteer working days? How hectic will it be when we finally work? Will my Vietnamese be sufficient to communicate with the patients? Will they understand me? I did not know. All I knew was that I left my 2 aerosol cans at home and will now be eaten alive by blood-sucking mosquitos.
The first couple of days were spent briefing about the trip and travelling to our rural destination. On the third day, we started to work. Patients and family flocked the corridors and waiting areas. The number of patients exceeded the amount of seats available and family members found themselves sitting on the ground waiting. They had travelled hours on end to get to the hospital and were to reside alongside their sick family members for the next couple of days.
The care and compassion shown by the doctors were admirable, however the love and comfort provided by the patients’ family members were incomparable; a patience that I had yet to encounter until that moment. They sat and waited hours on hours with nothing but a piece of paper to fan themselves with. Living under impoverished conditions meant minimal healthcare and limited access to facilities thus the support network that these family members created exemplify their determination to seize this opportunity to such privileges.
The patience shown by the doctors and volunteers were equally admirable. I worked alongside the general practitioner team, mainly assisting Dr. Nguyen Nguyen with her patients. The language barrier proved to be an obstacle on the trip with some volunteers being unable to speak Vietnamese; Dr Nguyen was one of them. I therefore became her personal translator. This complication was not a detriment as Dr. Nguyen was determined to learn Vietnamese. Her goal of the trip was to communicate with a patient without the help of her trusty translator; ME! She was successful on the 3rd working day.
As each day passed, I was overwhelmed by the support and the enthusiasm displayed by the volunteers and their willingness to assist those in need. By the end of the 2nd working day, a patient had felt some overwhelming discomfort in the hospital and had notified one of the volunteers. With no hesitation, the ophthalmologists and GPs rushed back to the hospital from their respective hotel rooms to treat the patient and ease him of this distress. The doctors took the necessary actions and precautions to ensure that patients were safe to return home to their families before discharging them even if this meant giving multiple checks to a single patient.
The most memorable and emotional part of the volunteering trip would be discharging patients. A mixture of smiles and tears was a common combination between both patients and volunteers. The look on patients’ faces proceeding the restoration of their sight will forever stay in my heart and is a memory that I will never forget. Needless to say, I had also shed my fair share of salty goodness. Being part of a group that can make such a difference and improve the quality of life for others…. It’s incredible.
This volunteering trip has allowed me to challenge myself, pursue my interest in medicine whilst giving back and making a difference to the less fortunate. I will strive to be a positive asset to VVPA in the coming years. I feel highly motivated and dedicated to pursue a life that benefits others.
I would like to wholeheartedly thank VVPA and everyone involved for this amazing experience, specifically Mr Thuan Nguyen for organising my accommodation, Dr Phuoc Vo and Dr Hien Tran for allowing me to be part of the team and lastly, Dr Khanh Tien Truong for exposing me to VVPA, thank you!
Tony Truong, Medical Student, Brisbane 2014