As my elective placement fell in my last year of university and was the last part of the curriculum, I knew I wanted to go somewhere abroad and go out with a bang!
So when Work the World presented their programmes to our university, it seemed perfect. Especially when I saw Vietnam listed as one of their destinations. So, on a bit of a whim I put my name down and because I wanted to push myself, I decided to go by myself.
The first part of the flight was quite arduous, and arriving at the airport was daunting as I had to transfer via another flight to Hue. All the signs in the airport were in Vietnamese but despite this, I worked out where I was meant to be going by asking airport staff who were more than happy to help.
The lovely Work the World team member who met me at Hue airport was really easy to find, she was wearing the Work the World t-shirt and virtually jumping with excitement!
When I arrived at the house I was taken aback by how beautiful it was. Honestly, it was even better than the photos!
I received a very warm welcome from the team. I was feeling a bit apprehensive at this point but they were so lovely and put me at ease straight away! After 30+ hours of travelling, it was just what I needed.
I didn’t really know what to expect on my first day at the hospital so I did feel a bit like a fish out of water. The first thing that hit me was the intense heat inside. There was no air conditioning so it was like walking into an oven. Within minutes I was a sweaty mess!
Everyone tells you that you’ll get used to it, but I think you just get used to sweating profusely and by the end of the trip you’ll think it’s just part of who you are! The nurses were very understanding of this though, and did encourage us to have a sit down with some water if it got too much. Side note; don’t bother wearing makeup, it literally melts away!
Something else that struck me was the volume of people in the hospital. I had to be careful where I walked because the corridors and the stairs were lined with the families of patients.
I was surprised as the UK are far stricter on health and safety in comparison, but I learned it was for a pretty good reason.
Relatives were instrumental in the care of patients as they were responsible for basic needs such as feeding and washing. I dread to think what the patients would have done if they didn’t have the luxury of a family to take care of them.
Over my four week placement I observed nurses and doctors in paediatrics, orthopaedics, obstetrics and gynaecology and oncology. It was intriguing to see how different the roles were compared to in the UK.
As I said, the families played a major role in the basic needs of the patient so the nurses could focus on the medications and wound care. I was also told that it was the doctors who did observations in the mornings and evenings, unlike in the UK where it’s usually the nurses responsibility.
I really admired the fact that even with such limited resources the determination to adopt the best possible practice was there.
In some respects, the training of nurses was similar to training in the UK. Even with the language barrier I could appreciate that it was the same principles in practice, such as aseptic non touch technique. I really admired the fact that even with such limited resources the determination to adopt the best possible practice was there.
A highlight of my experience were the medical students. They were easy to spot (they usually wore a white coat and lanyard) and most of them could speak English. I found I was able to learn so much when I shadowed them as they were able to talk me through what was happening and were excellent translators!
The language barrier could sometimes be tricky, especially in situations that I hadn’t experienced before. But, I developed my communication skills simply through effective body language. On reflection, this was the most valuable skill I took away from the experience.
To give you an example, a friend and I were observing a delivery and noticed another woman in labour next-door who was alone and clearly distressed. As the nurses were already preoccupied, we went over and supported her through it, we gave her water, held her hand and did our best to reassure her.
After she delivered the baby, she squeezed my hand and said ‘thank you’. Even though I was sobbing behind my face mask by the end of it, I was so glad we were able to turn her experience of childbirth around.
You may feel embarrassed to put yourself out there and hold a stranger's hand (especially if nobody else does) but please don’t, there is nothing wrong with showing humanity to someone who needs it.
There was so much to do in the evenings. If you like going out there were plenty of places along the DMZ strip that were pretty lively! A few places worth going to were ‘Brown Eyes’ and ‘Dong Bar’, as well as restaurants and river cruises and the abandoned water park.
Don’t worry, if that’s not your thing there was plenty to do in the Work the World house; language lessons, BBQ night and cooking lessons!
There were always different students in the house so there were lots of like-minded people!
my weekends were a total blast!
If all of what I've said already isn’t enough to convince you then let me tell you, my weekends were a total blast!
I’d met some amazing friends out there and we went to all sorts of incredible places including; Bach Ma National park, Lang co, Phong Na, Hoi An and Ba Na Hill, and many more!
I know for a lot of people the cost might be a real consideration, especially as a uni student, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can raise. I threw a cheese and wine party and did car-boot sales. I also found that so many people wanted to help me get there as it really is a once in a lifetime experience. Once you get out there you’ll find everything is super cheap!
So if you are reading this and you’re unsure, honestly just go for it. And better yet, go alone like I did. You’ll probably think ‘but what if I don’t make any friends?’ but you will and you’ll have a cracking time!
This is without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done, you can thank me later!