As part of my nursing elective in Vietnam I chose to spend one week doing the Village Healthcare Experience offered by Work the World. While applying for my elective, I decided that the Village Healthcare Experience was definitely something I wanted to include in my placement, due to my desire to see as wide a range of healthcare provided in Vietnam as I could. Choosing this experience allowed me to see first-hand the different practices used in rural and urban regions as well as enabling me to better embrace the culture of Vietnam.
On a Sunday afternoon myself and three other students, along with a member of the Work the World team set off from the house to the rural village. On the way to the village we made an important stop to pick up our guide and translator for the week. We arrived at our new home and were greeted by the couple who own the house. They, along with the rest of their family, were incredibly welcoming upon our arrival as well as throughout the duration of our stay.
Upon arrival, it was clear that our experience in the village was going to be very different from that of Hue city. Most notably, our home was surrounded by paddy fields and there wasn’t a car in sight. The relaxed way of living, riding bikes around the village as well as to our placement, alongside the lack of western commodities was certainly different from the UK and Hue city. We were definitely in for a treat with the week ahead!
Having arrived at the village after a week in the A&E department of the hospital in Hue, the change in pace was a welcomed surprise. Participating in the Village Healthcare Experience allowed me to slow down and actually take in what I was experiencing properly. We spent time in three different practices during the week, two local clinics as well as a day at the district hospital - accessible by boat. During this week we saw a wide range of patients with different conditions, and thanks to our translator, we learnt a lot about existing treatment methods and conditions which are more prevalent in Vietnam.
We were fortunate to learn about traditional Vietnamese medicine methods alongside methods of modern-day healthcare.
One case which stood out for me actually began in the hospital in Hue where, while spending time in the orthopaedic surgery department, I met a teenage boy who had been in a motorbike accident resulting in a broken ankle and finger. During my stay in the department I assisted on several occasions administrating medications and injections to the boy as well as tending to his wounds. I was shocked when, at one of the village clinics, the same boy arrived for his treatment. It was interesting to see, not only how this patient was treated in the hospital but also how his care continued into the primary setting.
We were fortunate to learn about traditional Vietnamese medicine methods alongside methods of modern-day healthcare. This was very different from western medicine teachings, so I found the knowledge shared with us very interesting, such as learning about how some Vietnamese people use herbal remedies and acupuncture to treat their diseases.
One key difference was the obvious lack of resources, and in some situations training for the medical staff.
From doing the Village Healthcare Experience, the differences in the care and treatment provided in the village were clear in comparison to those in the city hospitals. One key difference was the obvious lack of resources, and in some situations training for the medical staff. An example of this is an unused ultrasound machine at one of the clinics we visited. Due to the lack of staff training, no one was able to operate the machine leaving it redundant. It was situations like this that you could observe just how resourceful the staff are with their limited resources. The efficiency of the patient consultations was also remarkable, the doctors and nurses frequently assessed, diagnosed and had given treatment to patients before us students had been fully informed of what was wrong with the individual, as the staff worked at a much faster pace than we were used to back home.
In addition to the clinical placement during the Village Healthcare Experience, we also got to participate in various activities in the local area and learn about Vietnamese culture. On the Village Healthcare Experience, the mornings were spent at the various clinics or the district hospital and in the afternoons, we would go out and do different activities. Some of the things we got up to include, visiting the local beaches, going on a boat tour on the Tam Giang Lagoon, rice making, visiting a fortune teller to get our futures told and making kites with the local village children. We also often visited a local coffee shop where the other students would try the infamous flavoured Vietnamese coffees – I heard that they are definitely worth trying if you like coffee! As well as all these cultural activities another highlight was getting to eat traditional Vietnamese food cooked by the homestay owner’s wife. We were fortunate that she also taught us how to cook some dishes too.
There were so many memorable moments from the Village Healthcare Experience which I’ll cherish for a long time, but I have managed to narrow it down to two of my favourites. The first being the evenings spent playing cards or Uno with all the other students and staff members, spending time speaking to everyone and getting to know them better. It was especially nice chatting with members of the Work the World team as they had so much to share. I really enjoyed the group evenings as it isn’t something you get to do often back home, just sitting outside surrounded by paddy fields enjoying the company you’re with and the country you’re in.
My second most memorable moment was us students deciding to have a BBQ and karaoke night on our final night in the village. This was particularly nice as we had all of the homestay’s family with us, as well as the village children and some of the clinic staff. Getting to finish off our time on the Village Healthcare Experience that way was a night I truly won’t forget, there really was a sense of community and celebration.
My advice to anyone thinking about doing the Village Healthcare Experience is to definitely do it, you will not regret it. You should go into the week with an open mind. The culture and healthcare practices are very different to back home, but you should embrace it for what it is as there is always something you can learn from other cultures and people. My other piece of advice is to be prepared to put in the effort – it’s true, you will get out of it what you put in. So, ask questions, utilise your translator and take an interest in what you are seeing, and you will get so much out of the experience.
To summarise, the Village Healthcare Experience is something that you shouldn’t miss out on, it was without a doubt the best week of my elective in Vietnam and if given the opportunity I would go back and do the whole week again.