I have recently completed a six week medical elective in Hue, Vietnam. I was placed in a government-run medium-sized hospital with up to 600 beds that is one of the leading centres for specialised healthcare in Vietnam.
I have always wanted to travel to South East Asia and I’d heard great reviews from other medical students hence why I chose this location. I organised the trip through Work the World as I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to meet other students in the medical profession across the globe – this indeed was the case.
From the initial tour of the hospital, it became apparent how different healthcare was in Vietnam compared to back home in the UK. There was a significant volume of people waiting around in corridors and on the wards. I later learned that the family are the primary caregivers, hence if they weren’t there the patient would have no one to care for them.
The hospital serves a large area beyond the city itself and treats people of all ages with a wide variety of medical problems that present to the emergency department. Many patients can’t afford healthcare as they don’t have any insurance. My colleague and I took donations raised from our university out to Vietnam with us, we were delighted to see the impact this had in the hospital.
Over my six weeks, I spent four weeks in the plastic surgery department and two weeks in the orthopaedic department. Despite the language barrier posing some difficulty with regards to patients; my supervisors were keen to practice their English and explained each case in detail. Under their supervision, I had the opportunity to examine patients prior to surgery and improve my skills in coming up with differential diagnoses. In theatres, I had the opportunity to improve my suturing skills and learn about cases I would have never seen in the UK before.
Other interesting cases included a tibial puzzle flap repair on a patient with a snake bite
By the end of the placement it became normal to assist in the operations. With motorbikes being the main form of transport in Vietnam along with poor road safety regulations, I assisted in multiple cases associated with motorbike traffic accident injuries. Other interesting cases included a tibial puzzle flap repair on a patient with a snake bite who presented with necrotising fasciitis and a patient with a severe hand injury from work who ended up having multiple operations throughout my time on placement.
The Work the World house, where I stayed throughout my six weeks, was fantastic. There was a huge kitchen and dining area where the catering team would be making the meals for the house. One of the highlights was the BBQ night every Thursday where everyone sat in the outside dining area to socialise. There was also a swimming pool which was great when we came back to the house to have lunch and sunbathe before going back in for the afternoon theatres. From start to finish the Work the World team at the house were more like friends and were so kind. They would advise on how to go about booking weekend trips away which was extremely useful.
During my stay in Vietnam, I did several weekend trips away with the friends that I had made in the Work the World house. Our first weekend was spent in Hoi An which I would highly recommend. It was a great place for shopping. The city was beautiful and the lanterns on the river boats at night were gorgeous. On the journey there, as there was a group of us, we hired a private car (cheap as chips in a bigger group) to take us via the Hai Van Pass – this was one of the best parts as the views were stunning! On our journey back we arranged a car to take us to Ba Na Hills where the Golden Bridge is located. This is another site not to be missed.
My second weekend trip away was to Ha Long Bay, a spot that had been on my bucket list for a long time. My friend and I took an overnight sleeper bus for 13 and a half hours down to Hanoi, where we met our tour organiser to take us to Ha Long Bay. This was a brilliant trip where we went on an overnight cruise and got to Kayak in a lagoon, explore some caves and climb a hill on an island to get an amazing view of the bay itself. The pictures do not do this place justice – one of my favourite weekends away.
My third weekend trip away was to Phong Na. This was another highlight of my time away as I never in a million years predicted I would do half of the stuff that I ended up doing here. It was a busy weekend where we explored the Dark Cave and the Paradise Cave. We got to do some more kayaking and zip wiring as well as having a traditional Vietnamese lunch. The following day was one of my favourite days of the trip! We cycled to “The Duck Stop” which had been recommended to us by other students in the house. It was here that we got to meet a young Vietnamese family and help feed the ducks and meet the Buffalo!
We also explored spots closer to Hue including Bach Ma National Park. This was an interesting experience as we completed the adventure trail in torrential rain. If I can offer any advice to anyone wanting to do this trail, check the weather forecast before you go!
Hue itself was a beautiful city to explore. The perfume river was the ideal spot for that basic Instagram picture and the Imperial City was ideal if you wanted a week of not venturing too far.
Overall, I had a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in doing their elective in Vietnam. As well as gaining an incredible insight into the differences in healthcare systems between Vietnam and the UK, I was also able to explore numerous locations around this beautiful country. It has undoubtedly been a once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure throughout my future career as a doctor.