I believe the value of a global health experience is more than in learning medicine. At the level of a medical student, it is a challenge to make any significant contribution to medical care. We are lost enough in hospitals in the United States, and the addition of a language barrier makes it more difficult to learn and assist. The real value of a global health experience is in seeing and living in a completely different culture and healthcare system. Opening our eyes and expanding our perspective on how people live in a different country aids in our development, both personally and professionally.
While working in interventional cardiology, I gained important clinical knowledge such as coronary anatomy and indications for coronary artery bypass graft, and observed stent placements that restored blood flow to ischemic heart tissue. But the greatest lessons I will take back with me are not practical skills, but rather the nuances of daily living for physicians here, and the way in which patients experience the healthcare system. In their early twenties, the fellows in the cardiology lab were set on a path towards medicine from a much earlier age than I was. Many come from villages and areas outside Saigon into the city to study and train, as there are only a handful of medical schools, all clustered in the cities. Lunar New Year is the only holiday they celebrate throughout the year, the only time when the hospital is greatly reduced in capacity and work as most staff and students return to their homes.
Being here for Lunar New Year was the most unique experience I could have had. It was interesting to see how patients and hospital staff treat the event. Patients mostly request discharge to go home, even if that might increase risk or, sometimes, mean death. Staff members take this time as an opportunity to celebrate the work they have accomplished over the past year. There are daily lunch events and evening activities. This does not mean that patients suddenly stopped being sick or that physicians suddenly don’t care about their patients. Rather, I see an acceptance of the world in which they live and a celebration of what can be appreciated.
I admire the dedicated involvement of families in the care of their loved ones. Even in times of distress, they focus on what they have and can control. They value one another and the time they have together. Witnessing this commitment to gratitude makes me appreciative of what I have and critical of myself for wanting more. I am learning the fundamental lesson that what I have is more than many, and it should definitely be enough and be celebrated.