Observing healthcare delivery here has shown me more than just a different system; I’ve witnessed a completely different view of healthcare. What procedures are performed, who performs them, what medications are used and how resources are allocated is very different here compared to home. Medical professions have to maneuver a unique balancing act of treating patients with exotic (at least to me) diseases with limited resources while also giving care to a constantly over capacitated hospital. These are vastly different situations to anything we have in the states. However, the most unexpected thing I discovered here is how differently the patient population views healthcare. Healthcare is often seen as a commodity in the United States and, as such, people have expectations of service.
In Vietnam, healthcare is necessity. It’s something that people get because they require it to live their lives. They want to receive their treatment and continue on with their lives. They don’t seem bothered by how they are cared for, as long as their aliments are taken care of. It’s a different experience for me that makes me examine what creates a culture of consumer healthcare, like in the United States, versus a culture of healthcare as a public resource, like in Vietnam. This contrast makes me question the proper mode of healthcare delivery, which has always previously been the way the states provide healthcare.
An equally important part of my time in Vietnam has been my discovery of Saigon and the Vietnamese culture that I know so little about. I’ve always considered myself more American than Vietnamese. This fact is something I’ve come to regret as I further my career in medicine and feel compelled to change that so I can practice in a Vietnamese community in the United States. Coming to Vietnam has allowed me to immerse myself in real Vietnamese culture. I have been welcomed into the homes and lives of locals. I have witnessed the value people place on family and the lengths they are willing to go to care for them. I have experienced the warmth that Vietnamese people have towards total strangers.
I’ll remember the interventional cardiology team calling me randomly to check in on me in the evenings and invite me to hang out. I’ll remember the street vendor who warned me to not confuse the 20,000 dong bill with the 200,000 dong bill because people might try to rip me off. I’ll remember the hospital staff taking time out of their days to show me where I can get good ice cream or milk tea. There is so much goodness in the people here, despite living in what I would consider very hard situations. In addition to all of this, I’ve discovered that Saigon is so much more than what I saw when I visited two years ago. It’s more than the crowded streets of district 5 or the western tourist areas of district 1. There’s the Chinese community in Cholon, the expat Korean community in district 7, and the rapidly expanding and changing western expat community in district 2. There’s craft beer, Indian food and sports bars that show the Superbowl. Saigon is so much more multicultural than I had ever expected.
I came to Vietnam expecting to improve my Vietnamese and see different pathologies. I’m leaving with a newfound appreciation and understanding of a growing and thriving culture and community.