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Daniel Nguyen | 2017

The path to becoming a medical professional is an arduous one. A journey full of trials, tribulations, revelations, and relief. At some points in my academic trajectory, often during the hours of early dusk, I have had a propensity to question my motivation for consciously putting myself through such academic rigors. I see my peers going to sleep at reasonable times, spending multiple nights a week at social events, and enduring finals week with relatively minimal stress. However, there are also many things I do not see my peers doing: helping a child see clearly for the first time in their life, providing comfort and console for the family of patients undergoing medical procedures, or being inspired and learning from some of the most incredible thought leaders in the medical industry. For each sacrifice I have made to progress my journey to becoming a doctor, I am greeted by an equally impactful reward, and my time with VnHOPE has proven just that.

My two weeks volunteering in the VnHOPE Medical Mission in Long An have been a truly remarkable experience. The gratification I get from serving the underprivileged populous of my motherland and bringing a glimpse of hope into their lives is unmatched by anything else that I have done before. Besides the satisfaction I get from helping others, this medical mission has also provided me with opportunities to gain hands-on experience, learn about the many aspects of the medical field, and most importantly, re-affirm my passion to become a doctor.

What I appreciate from the clinic was the rotation arrangement, where students had the opportunity to work at the different stations to gain exposure. I found crowd control to be the most demanding station of all. Serving an average of over 500 patients a day, crowd control was critical in maintaining order. It was through my position at this station that I was able to hone my ability to work in stressful situations under pressure. Crowd control was most difficult at the pharmacy and vitals stations as they saw the highest influx of patients. It was seldom that they were not backed up, congesting the waiting room. As such, I often took initiative when my team was assigned crowd control, and volunteered to manage patient flow at the pharmacy and vitals stations.

At the vitals station, I had lots of exposure to working directly with patients. I measured the patient’s weight and height, and took blood pressure, blood sugar and hemoglobin. When primary care was being backed up, patients would wait at vitals until there was room to accommodate them. This was a great opportunity for me to talk to the patients and help those who were anxious about their upcoming checkup to alleviate their anxiety.

My favorite job during the medical mission was shadowing established healthcare professionals at various stations. The optometry station, a station I did not have the privilege of being exposed to during my last medical mission, proved fruitful in experiential learning opportunities. Through shadowing the optometrist twice, I was able to gain the trust of Dr. Van de Pol, earning the privilege of independently using a variety of optometry instruments such as the ophthalmoscope to check a patient’s optic nerve and red reflux. In addition, I assisted in translating for Dr. Van de Pol, successfully communicating the patient’s needs, wants, and concerns.

I was also given the opportunity to shadow Dr. Truong at the pediatric station, who took time to educate me on many illnesses and the purpose of different pharmaceutical products. I was privileged to observe the doctor-patient interactions between Dr. Truong and the young patients and their families. At this station, I also learned how to present a patient case and gained an appreciation for the important role that the doctor plays as a communicator.

In addition, I was also able to shadow Dr. Ching, a pain medicine physician at the primary care station. One of the highlights for me was learning how to give injections to patients, which although seemed at first to be an intimidating task, eventually became more natural and precise. Aside from translating for Dr. Ching the questions, concerns and comments of patients, I also helped several patients overcome their fear of having injections. One particular patient was a lady who suffered from severe chronic pain for many years. An injection was recommended to help her condition but the patient was apprehensive about it due to her general fear of needles and lack of knowledge about the treatment. I helped to educate the patient on the injection, explaining how it works, the potential side effects and any associated risks. Being sympathetic to the patient’s fear of needles, I stayed by her side and distracted her while receiving the injection. In the end, she was very glad that she got the treatment and thanked me multiple times for helping her. This was truly a gratifying moment for me, to acknowledge that I had made a difference for one patient.

My experiences shadowing the various doctors highlighted one of the most critical skills a doctor must master, the ability to communicate. This is a skill I have refined through the different volunteering roles I have taken since high school. On this medical mission, my communication skills were tested rigorously as I interacted with diverse patients and healthcare professionals. Despite my limited Vietnamese, I was quite effective in communicating with the patients. This was largely due to my approachable manner and ability to understand and appreciate the cultural differences to adapt my communication style.

In shadowing a team of dedicated doctors who love their jobs, it became apparent to me that the gratification achieved through helping others transcends the physical and emotional demands required of a doctor. It was my compassion for the hundreds of patients lining up each day that invigorated me to work tirelessly and enthusiastically during this humanitarian mission. Experiences such as these are what strengthen my resolve to become a doctor.

This year, as a returning volunteer who has seen first-hand the healthcare deficiencies in Ba Vi, I initiated a fundraising in Toronto to raise money for VnHOPE. My effort promoted the philanthropic efforts of this medical mission and collected $1010 in total from 17 donors. My ultimate goal as a doctor is to continue these humanitarian efforts to help eliminate socioeconomic health disparities in developing countries.

On this trip I met many wonderful people. I made lots of amazing friends who helped me learn and grow as an individual. Everyone on my team was awesome. We supported each other and worked collaboratively. There were also many people who I looked up to, the various doctors and healthcare professionals who had volunteered their valuable time to assist in providing essential care to the underserved population.

I have been interested in medicine as a career option since grade 9, when my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 84 and was treated successfully by novel VAT surgery and radiofrequency ablation. Through my grandfather’s experience, I saw the difference that doctors can make not only in the patients’ lives but also in the lives of their loved ones. This experience, combined with a fascination for biological science, had sparked my interest in medicine, and I began exploring the field through a high school co-op placement in the Oncology Clinic at the Trillium Health Centre. To gain further exposure, I started volunteering at local hospitals and a Long-Term Care Centre three years ago. These experiences amalgamate to create the passion that re-affirms my desire to become a doctor. VnHOPE has shown me why every late night, every cram session, and every sacrifice has been, and will be worth it. Although my peers are not subjected to the same academic related pressures and burdens, they also lack witness to the beautiful spectacle that is medicine.

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