Scholarships for 3rd year medical students from the University of Sydney

On this page

2010 3rd year medical students from University of Sydney

Report by Amy Nolan


“Much of Vietnamese society is founded upon the strength of its women”
-Prof Jonathan Morris

She looked like a child, tiny and afraid. Patient T had been labouring for close to 24 hours, and she was clearly exhausted. As another wave of contractions gripped her small body, the midwife climbed up onto the bed beside her, placed her fists on Patient T’s swollen abdomen, and bore down with all her weight. With little more than a silent grimace, Patient T gave one final push and her child slipped quietly into the world. A baby boy, and what should have been a joyous occasion for the young Vietnamese mother. But I watched with confusion as Patient T turned her tired face to the side while midwives quickly swaddled her baby and took him away. The silence in the delivery room echoed what everyone else already knew: her son had died in utero several days earlier, and Patient T would be returning to her home in the countryside only to bury her tiny son.

That day, Patient T was one of approximately 130 women to give birth at TuDu Obstetric and Gynaecological Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, where I spent my 8 week elective with the Hoc Mai Foundation. Fortunately not all women experience such devastating outcomes, but the sheer volume of patients passing through TuDu means the hospital runs very differently to maternity wards in Australia. With the helpful guidance of the Vietnamese Hoc Mai fellows, I was offered the opportunity to practice obstetrics clinical skills such as assisting with spontaneous deliveries, suturing, and scrubbing in for caesareans and other gynaecological operations. However, I believe my most valuable learning experience came from observing the enormous differences between our two systems.


Report by Cam Hollows

Blood, Bone and Metal:
Report on a Student Hoc Mai Scholarship placement with the Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery Department at Viet Duc Surgical Teaching hospital Hanoi. (KHOA CHẤN THƯƠNG CHỈNH H'NH - BỆNH VIỆN VIỆT ĐỨC)

The treatment of Motor Vehicle Accident (Road) Trauma in the developing world is an area of need that is expanding in parallel with the horrific toll such trauma takes on societies. MVA’s particularly in developing countries with recent surges in economic development have been labeled the “unsolvable epidemic” of the 21st century. Vietnam is a nation that continues to experience rapid economic growth and a concurrent mechanical mobilization of its populace, along with this mobilization comes the specter of road trauma and polytrauma from MVA’s. Road trauma management is complex and challengeing because each case has unique elements due to the huge variety in the mechanism of injury. Motorcycles play a large and important part in Vietnamese society but there can be no doubt (even following introduction of compulsory helmet legislation) they also impose a terrible cost.


Report by Ji Li


I went to Vietnam with a very open mind. As we were foreign students going to a very big and busy hospital (Bach Mai), I half expected us to fall through the cracks somewhat and be left to fend for ourselves. I am very happy to report that I did not feel like that at all.

As soon as I arrived at Bach Mai Emergency, I was warmly welcomed by and taken under the wings of Dr Tu, who was a previous Hoc Mai scholar. He was very kind and explained interesting medical presentations to me with a lot of patience. I was also introduced to 3 more emergency doctors who were all Hoc Mai scholars; they spoke English well and were all keen for me to see their patients.


Report by Christine Duong

The first four weeks of my elective was spent at the eye hospital in Ho Chi Minh city Vietnam. Ho chi minh city is the largest city in Vietnam and has a population of 10 million. This eye hospital is the largest eye hospital in the south of Vietnam and serves a radius of about 33 million people. It is a very busy hospital in a very busy city. Most nights there would be patients who sleep on hospital grounds because they are from rural Vietnam and there would be no early morning buses to make their 7am appointments, hence they would arrive at night and sleep there to wait for their appointments.

During my time at the eye hospital I went to many different departments such as outpatients (with residents and specialists), trauma, glaucoma, paediatric ophthalmology and the operating suites. Each department was very welcoming and my concern of a language barrier was rarely an issue. I think it helped that I spoke Vietnamese however I speak no medical Vietnamese and most of the time it was easier to communicate in English since I didn’t know the medical words, however the doctors always knew the English words since they learn medical Vietnamese and English. I made many friends at the eye hospital since many people were so friendly and willing to teach. They were also willing to learn conversational English from me, so I felt I could give back a little.


Report by Jane Stuart-Carberry

Arriving at Từ Dũ hospital on the first day I felt like a celebrity! I was welcomed by Dr Hoan, ushered to collect my ID badge and to meet important people. I spent most of my 2 months at Từ Dũ in the delivery ward, where I was encouraged to participate in everything involved in the birthing process from cardiotocography interpretation to vaginal births and C-sections.

One of the highlights of my experiences was night shifts and emergency department shifts with Dr Võ Minh Tuấn. He would either teach us while he consulted in the emergency department, or assign us to a registrar who would take the time to answer our burning questions, and take us into the operating theatre to watch and assist in cesarean sections and gynaecological surgery. I was amazed by the surgeons’ and anaesthetists’ technical skills. Their dexterity, speed and precision was impressive, especially in placement of epidurals, they explained that the sheer number of patients they have treated allows them to fine tune their skills.


2009 3rd year medical students from University of Sydney

Report by Sara Clarke, Tu Du Hospital, Ho chi Minh City, Vietnam


I completed four weeks of my elective term at Tu Du hospital. Tu Du is the largest maternity hospital in Vietnam. It is situated in Ho Chi Minh City and plays a major role in the education of local medical and nursing students as well as midwives from the remote, minority tribe regions. On average 100 newborns are delivered each day at the hospital. In addition to obstetric services the hospital also offers gynaecological, fertility, NICU, genetic testing and pathology services.

The activities that I undertook during my time at Tu Du hospital were based on my learning objectives. As such I spent the majority of my time in the delivery department. This department consisted of a large room separated into six smaller rooms, each containing two lithotomy beds (see photo). The typical process of entry into this room begins when the labouring woman presents to the emergency department at Tu Du. Due to difficulties with transport and the scarcity of ambulance services, she will usually present early in the first stage of labour and remain at the hospital for the entirety of her labour. This ensures that emergency transport to the hospital, due to unexpected complications or fast progression of labour, is not required. The pregnant woman is then admitted to the maternity ward which is a large room containing approximately 40 haphazardly arranged beds, without privacy curtains. When delivery is imminent the woman is moved into the delivery room.


Elise Coker

My Học Mãii four week clinical experience in Hanoi promised to be a wonderful opportunity to improve my medical knowledge and skills, as well as to form friendships with Vietnamese health care workers.

The scholarship not only exceeded my expectations in these key areas, but also offered me the opportunity to form relationships with allied health care workers back home and to gain an insight into the Vietnamese culture and way of life.

The four weeks I spent in Bach Mai Hospital - one of the largest in Vietnam - provided me with a chance to complement the last two years of predominantly university based learning with an extended period of clinical exposure. I was able to observe a wide range of medical procedures and clinical care, particularly in the area of surgery.

Catherine Pham

As a recipient of a Hoc Mai Foundation scholarship, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend four weeks of my Elective Term at the National Hospital of Paediatrics (NHP) in Hanoi. My time was primarily spent with the surgical department, however I did have the chance to visit other departments around the hospital to gain a deeper insight into medical practice in Viet Nam. This leg of my elective ran from July 20th to August 14th 2009, that is, during the Hanoian summer. Continued...

Hoc Mai Foundation – A Month at Bac Mai Hospital Dec 2009 (Hanoi), by Uma Selvanathan

Between Dec 5-Jan 2, I spent a month in Hanoi, Vietnam with a group of students from Sydney Medical School, 2 Nursing students, 1 speech pathology student and 1 physiotherapy student. Having just completed my second year of medical school as I arrived in Hanoi, my experience with the program was a phenomenal one that permitted me to consolidate my “classroom learning” from the past 2 years and translate it to a clinical, hospital-based context. Additionally, I was able to learn a lot about the Vietnamese culture and the practice of medicine in a developing country.

I spent my 4 weeks at Bac Mai hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Hanoi. The first two weeks were spent in general surgery and ICU, and the last 2 weeks with the Obstetrics and Gynaecology department. Initially, we were unsure as to how much we would be able to see and do as none of us spoke any Vietnamese and most of the patients spoke no English. We soon found out that many aspects of medicine is in fact, universal and we were able to follow surgeries and the ICU rounds and clue in on what was going on. Continued...

2008 3rd year medical students from University of Sydney

Vietnam – a nation of delicious food, amazing people, breathtaking landscapes…and minimal pain relief.

The Học Mãi scholarships provided seven University of Sydney students with the opportunity to experience both the culture and the medical practices of a nation vastly different to Australia. On placements at hospitals in HaNoi, DaNang, and Ho Chi Minh City, we viewed first-hand the horror of motorcycle accidents, the joy of childbirth, and the effects of limited resources.

At Viet Duc Surgical Hospital in HaNoi, we witnessed many families queuing every morning, waiting to visit their loved ones; case after case of mangled hands and severed limbs due to unsafe occupational practices; brain tumors left to grow in patients who cannot afford medical care; and major head and limb injuries due to motorcycle and car accidents.

As one of the Học Mãi scholars described it, “there was a mixture of emotion in the air; a sense of uncertainty in the eyes of family contrasted to one of pragmatic brashness of the doctors trying to help the overwhelming number of patients.”

However, despite their horrific injuries and illnesses, we were constantly amazed at the stoicism and resilience of the Vietnamese people, whose pain appeared to be controlled with the most basic forms of pain relief, such as intra-venous paracetamol ¬– even for major limb injuries, such as amputations.

It was eye-opening to come from a medical system where syringes, sutures, and neck braces are expected as standard care to a country where these are limited.Limited resources notwithstanding, we observed excellent surgical and clinical skills, and felt privileged to be accepted into the Vietnamese medical community. Despite the time constraints, these talented doctors still took the time to share their knowledge – and practice their English!

At Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, we assisted with childbirth, took patient histories, and collected data for public health studies. Everyday we would learn something new, such as the differences in the relationships between patients and doctors, the impact of cultural beliefs on health care, and the difficulties faced in working in a developing country.

Outside of medicine, the Học Mãi scholarship provided us an opportunity to embrace a culture, make new friends, experience the excitement of Tết (Lunar New Year), and refine our palates in relation to the subtleties of regional beers and spring rolls.

We are very grateful to the Học Mãi Foundation for making this opportunity available. It has contributed invaluable experiences and memories, and allowed us to forge bonds with other medical professionals in a country vastly different to our own.

2007 3rd year medical students from University of Sydney

Tamara Rickersey and Paula Conroy

We have just spent four weeks at the Tu Du Maternity Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. It was an inspiring and eye-opening experience and we are grateful to have been given the opportunity from TuDu Hospital, the Hoc Mai Foundation and the Northern Clinical School to be able work in such an incredible environment.

Tu Du Hospital Delivery Suite staff attends to approximately 200 deliveries per day and over 70,000 each year. It was in the engine room of this amazing machine, the delivery department, that we spent our time for this placement. We were overseen by Madame Trinh, the Head Midwife of the department and midwife extraordinaire and were very fortunate to have such a wonderful tutor teach us about the practice of obstetrics and gynaecology in Vietnam. Ms Trinh was a 2007 Hoc Mai Foundation/AusAID Fellowship recipient.

From day 1, we were made to feel extremely welcome and were encouraged to get involved in all aspects of the delivery process. The numerous midwifes, midwifery student, doctors and medical students were happy to teach us the art of delivery at Tu Du as well as immediate post-natal care for both mother and baby.

The overall experience has made us more confident in the practice of obstetrics and gynaecology and has also taught us much about the Vietnamese culture – we are very grateful to the Hoc Mai Foundation for this opportunity.