I chose to carry out my placement in Hue, Vietnam because it is a country that I have always wanted to visit. I also thought it would be an interesting challenge to go to a country where I don’t speak the language.
On my first day at the hospital, the first thing that hit me was that there were people everywhere, both patients and family members. On the psychiatric ward there were shared rooms for up to 4 patients and each patient had a family member stay in the hospital with them.
I was initially worried about the language barrier but found that every doctor spoke English fluently. After some initial nerves, I felt welcomed by everyone in the department and had an amazing placement!
Throughout the placement I gained a lot of knowledge about the cultural differences in Vietnam compared to Scotland, especially relating to the stigma surrounding mental illness and traditional family views. This allowed me to develop a different way of interviewing patients that focused on Vietnamese values and culture.
I learnt the importance of understanding a patient’s beliefs and what matters to them, in order to make their care person centred and effective. I also gained knowledge and skills relating to limited resources, for example there was a different level of access to medications and very limited psychological therapies.
There were two cases that I will always remember. The first was a young pregnant woman experiencing a manic episode. This was something I had never come across previously. The doctors allowed me to spend time interviewing the patient, and they spent a lot of time discussing treatment options and the risks of the situation with me.
The second case was a boy the same age as me with drug induced psychosis. This is something we see a lot in Scotland, so it was very interesting to see the differences in treatment approaches. The boy had very interesting and elaborate delusions and hallucinations, for example one of his delusions was that he had ghosts inside his head and each would take a turn speaking through his mouth, some he believed could speak other languages and he would spend long periods of time thinking he was speaking Korean.
I experienced the biggest differences in the hospital environment and the role of the nurse. In Vietnam, multiple patients (and their family members) share rooms, in Scotland almost all patients have their own individual room and bathroom.
The role of the nurse is very different in Vietnam. Nurses are general trained, rather than mental health specific. As a result, a number of the responsibilities that would be carried out by mental health nurses in Scotland are carried out by psychiatrists instead. For the duration of my placement I was placed with the psychiatrists who were all exceptional at their jobs and worked extremely hard due to the extra responsibility.
In the evenings we explored the amazing places around Hue. We visited Imperial City, the abandoned water park, dragon boats, markets, pagodas, local restaurants and bars.
On the first weekend I went to Hoi An with 2 other students I’d met in the Work the World house, we took a private taxi so were able to travel via the Hai Van Pass and stop at the Lang Co Lagoon and Marble Mountain. In Hoi An we went parasailing at the beach and had some clothes custom made.
On the second weekend I went to Phong Nha with a large group. We had a 6-hour bus ride to get there but it was definitely worth it! We went on a tour where we trekked through the jungle, jumped off a cliff into water and went swimming. It was one of the most terrifying yet amazing experiences of my life! We also visited the Dark Cave where we ziplined, canoed, went in mud baths and tackled obstacle courses. Going to Phong Nha is something everyone should do!
Going to Vietnam was the best thing I have ever done! I had the most amazing experience on placement and on weekend adventures. I met some of the most incredible people who are now friends for life! I’ve come back a more confident, assertive and independent person, and don’t regret a single second of it. It is a big and challenging decision but it will be the best decision you ever make!