Scholarships for health sciences students

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2014 Reflections from health sciences students

Dr. Dong, Rebecca, Nirali, Dr. Lien, Dr. Tho

Dr. Dong, Rebecca, Nirali, Dr. Lien, Dr. Tho

Nirali Gohel, a fourth year Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) student

Being a part of a much smaller Hoc Mai Scholars group (compared to previous years), I was brimming with excitement. I knew that no matter what happens during the trip, this is going to be the richest clinical experience, where challenges await at every step. Having been on clinical placements for the entire semester, I felt confident, yet dubious whether it would be sufficient or not. I learnt few Vietnamese phrases to greet people, researched basic 'Do's & Don'ts', their culture and weather before departing.

I was spell bound by the generosity of Vietnamese people. I was quite nervous for my first day at Bach Mai Hospital (biggest and most developed hospital in Vietnam) in Hanoi, however it didn't last long! We received warmest welcome from the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Unit, head physiotherapists, doctors and lots of students. Due to the language barrier, it was challenging initially to communicate; however it became easier as time went by. Over first couple of days, I gained a better insight into Vietnam's healthcare system, common injuries and the rehab strategies. The positive vibes of this place kindled a desire in me to learn more from them, and try helping them to my best ability.

After the presentation on last day.  (Centre: Dr.Lien)

After the presentation on last day. (Centre: Dr.Lien)

Major differences in the health care management in Australia and Vietnam were the passivity of treatment, lack of patient consent and uniformity of treatment, regardless of differences in impairments. When discussing about the passive treatment to one of the supervisors, she revealed that it was more to do with peoples' mindset. Patient’s family believes that if a therapist does not physically touch and exercise the patients, then the treatment is futile. It gave me a true understanding into why it is important to understand cultural beliefs and the necessity to work around it, rather than change it.

A week after the placement, I was fortunate to meet Dr. Lien, who was one of the leading doctors in rehab, and had been to Sydney University few times before. The most astonishing moment was when Dr Lien said to me, "I remember you from somewhere. I think I have seen you at Cumberland Campus. You look very familiar". What a small world!

Being a 3rd year student, I hadn’t learnt much about assessment of patients with Spinal Cord injury. She took initiative to enhance our learning. She prepared an intern to present on ASIA scale for us, and gave us a quick test as well.


I truly admired people's openness towards any suggestions for improvements. Dr. Lien too asked us for things that could be improved. I had a relentless repertoire of suggestions, which I thought was overwhelming for her. Dr Lien casually invited me and my friend to discuss about these in our last week. The word of mouth spread to the entire department, and before we knew it, we were invited to do a presentation for a group of about 30-35 head doctors, physios, OT's and medical students. Though I was overcome with nerves for this presentation, it turned out to be the highlight of my stay in Vietnam. I discussed about the economic burden of Stroke in Vietnam, appropriate outcome measures and scales for stroke, evidenced-based suspension therapy, mirror therapy and treadmill training. It lasted for a fair while as it had to be translated to Vietnamese as well. But I adored their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and vision for change amongst the entire audience. They wanted to know more and more. So I then ended up talking about electrical stimulation, EMG biofeedback, significance of chest physiotherapy and basic manual handling techniques to prevent shoulder subluxation. The presentation lasted for well over 3hr. The room was filled with exuberance at the end of it. They immediately decided to translate MAS and Tinetti scale from English to Vietnamese, and were also offered 10 ES machines from a Japanese company, whose representative was present in the lecture. I did not anticipat that one presentation could make such a difference. It was my opportunity to offer something back to this hospital and the lovely people, and make this scholarship worth it.


Hanoi and its people have given me an ever-lasting memory. Generosity flows in their blood, and their thirst for knowledge is irrepressible. Their creativity, willingness to learn and perseverance makes up for the lack of facilities. We weren’t only greeted so warmly by the staff, but also the patients. The patients often guided us with our weekend tours, and I was also invited to have a coffee by one of my patients. With the friends made at Bach Mai, I had opportunity to experience motorbike rides amidst the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, had amazing dinners and spend some time shopping with them. For them, I was not merely a student from Australia, but a family member.

I am very grateful to Hoc Mai foundation and Bach Mai hospital for giving us such unforgettable experience. With this placement, I have embarked on a journey towards the betterment of the health care system, towards lifelong friendship…


Paul Shapter, a second year Master of Exercise Physiology student

During December I was part of a group of students who was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the Hoc Mai Scholarship to Vietnam. I was located at the Hanoi Medical University Hospital within the rehabilitation department for four weeks, which was a great experience.

The first week was very eye opening as I saw firsthand how the Vietnamese health system worked and how different the facilities and processes are from the Australian health system. The physiotherapy team I worked with were very welcoming as well as the Vietnamese medical students who were also placed at the hospital at the same time. My supervisors, Ms Huyen and Mr Deo were very knowledgeable and assisted me in my learning, organising time to allow me to see various aspects of their responsibility in the hospital and a wide variety of conditions that they treat.

My time in Hanoi Medical University Hospital was a great educational experience, which I feel was invaluable as I transition into a qualified health professional. It gave me the opportunity to learn outside my comfort zone, in another country with many new conditions and the added challenge of language barrier. One positive aspect of the Hoc Mai scholarship was the multidisciplinary nature of the placement. I can know fully understand where I fit into a professional team and what various roles include.

The highlight for me was experiencing Vietnam and its culture. Being given the opportunity to live in the country for some time allowed me to explore places and events that as a tourist I would not. The staff of the hospital and the Vietnamese students invited me around to various places where they enjoying eating and relaxing which allowed me to experience the real and raw Vietnam.

I will be forever grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity provided by the Hoc Mai Foundation. Not only was it a great educational experience it was also an invaluable life experience in which I will never forget.


Rebecca Samuel, a third year Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise Physiology) student

Bach Mai Hospital is the main general hospital in the region, and we were there for 4 weeks. I primarily worked in the rehabilitation department, whose patients were people with spinal cord injuries or recovering from a stroke.

On the first day I was introduced three physiotherapists Mr. Thu, Mr. Tai and Mr.Linh who showed me around the department and introduced me to the variety of students who were working there. After a small amount of observation I was then invited to treat some patients. A lot of the students stopped to observe my treatment techniques and gave me advice on how to improve my technique. The Vietnamese students were really welcoming initially we relied on google translator a lot. However we were able to communicate really well and they taught me important Vietnamese phrases to use when treating a patient such as how to ask a patient if they are in pain or tired, which was really helpful.

I wasn't surprised to see that exercise physiology hadn't emerged in their healthcare model at present. After discussing some of the therapy options with a supervisor it became clearer as to why. Patients in Vietnam prefer to be exercise/provided resistance by the physiotherapist, instead of utilizing weights or machines such as treadmill and leg curl which were present. This is due to a societal perception that for a patient to recover they need to be treated primarily by a physiotherapist and not utilize the other option as much. I believe that this played a role in the longer duration of patients remaining in hospitals. However the outcomes still were really good for the patients due to the physiotherapist's high level of attentiveness towards the patients.

I was most fascinated by some of therapy techniques used such as a hand propelled bicycle exerciser, to improve leg strength. A hand therapy technique to improve fine motor skills through the use of pushing a weighted velcro cylinder on a Velcro board, was different but quite effective treatment method. I also enjoyed experiencing "nap time".

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the patients and working with the staff and students at Bach Mai Hospital. I would like to thank the University, The faculty of Health Science, the Hoc Mai Foundation and all their contributors for making this opportunity possible.


Chia Ying, a fourth year Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) student

As a final year physiotherapy student travelling to Hanoi to learn and practice physiotherapy, I returned home with a vast amount of experience and memories that I will be cherish for a lifetime.

Dai Hoc Y, the University of Medicine Rehabilitation Centre in Hanoi is a small centre next to the main building of the hospital where patients are referred to physiotherapy for musculoskeletal injuries, spinal cord injuries and post stroke rehabilitation. I found language barrier in Vietnam were the main problem during my visit. Thankfully, my supervisors were able to translate and helped me learn a few useful words and physio techniques along the journey. Throughout my experience I was further able to overcome these barriers through drawings, hand signals and even with the "help" of google translator, to understand and get along well with patients.

I was also able to visit other wards in Dai hoc Y hospital. In the post operation ward and the stroke unit, we performed chest physio, massage and exercises to prevent chest complication, thrombosis and promoting independent physical function for discharge. One of the most rewarding experiences is when I was able to rehabilitate an 82 year old Parkinson’s disease patient following a post total knee replacement. She was initially bed bound, but with some hard work and determination she was able to leave hospital walking independently on a frame.

The health care system in Vietnam is very different compared to Australia. Physiotherapy is not well-known as it is in Australia, therefore most patients are only aware of the need to see physiotherapist after they have been developed complications. Patients pay to see a doctor and physiotherapist with no cost being covered by the government. They also have to pay for each treatment or technique performed by the therapist. As a result it is difficult for the patients with lower income to seek medical help.

The other thing to take back with me to Australia is the friendships and memories I have gained during my stay in Vietnam. I was really moved by the fact that I was treated like a family member and was invited to their homes as an honoured guest to show me their 'Hanoi' local experiences.

Every insight and experiences reflecting the true meaning of Hoc Mai- "forever learning" will remain a part of me throughout my whole career. I have to thank everyone involved in this scholarship including the staff from Hoc Mai foundation, University of Sydney, the 2014 Hoc Mai fellow scholars, and the amazing people that I have met in Hanoi for making my experience in Hanoi a life changing one.

2010 Reflections from health sciences students

Robyn Weymer


Robyn Weymer (second from right)

"…no amount of information available could have prepared me for how amazing this country is, nor relate the incredible, eye-opening experiences I was to have."

After receiving news that I was selected to be awarded a Hoc Mai scholarship for a placement in Vietnam, I was immediately filled with excitement about the experience which lay ahead. I formulated learning goals which I hoped to achieve, and read up on the city and hospitals in which we were going to live and work for four weeks. I memorised a few Vietnamese phrases, sampled some different Vietnamese foods, and researched their culture, history, government, and health care system. Eventually, I departed Sydney feeling well prepared and confident. Upon my arrival in Vietnam however, I quickly learned no amount of information available could have prepared me for how amazing this country is, nor relate the incredible, eye-opening experiences I was to have.


Lucy Bath


Lucy bath (on the right)

There is so much to reflect upon when returning home from a trip such as the one we have experienced in Vietnam.

Before I left, I was interested to know how much was known about Speech Pathology in Vietnam or if there was a recognised need for it. In terms of knowing the scope of practice for speech pathology, in the first week it was difficult for Dr Duong to find areas at Bach Mai hospital other than the rehabilitation (consisting of physiotherapy) for us to work in. We were keen to see stroke patients, throat and neck cancer patients, cleft palate surgery and anything related to our field, but it seemed that what the Vietnamese thought speech pathologists did, was very limited. When speaking to some Vietnamese medical students about speech pathology and its place in healthcare, they were interested to learn that it was a separate degree to medicine in Australia. They found it hard to believe that we covered all of the areas that we do.

We began in The University Hospital speech department which was a small corner of a larger room, in which Miss Ly taught mostly very young children communicative intentions such as requesting and corrected articulation problems such as lisping. She had the same patients every day for an hour and although the activities and goals were basic, I learnt a lot from watching her work with these young children. She had endless amounts of patience, she worked so hard on the same things everyday and yet she never tired or gave up when the children did. The quality of her interactions with the children was something that I've taken home with me. Miss Ly had a big cupboard of toys to use with the children yet each day she took out the same ones and repeated the same activities but kept her focus on the goal of each exercise. It made me reflect on how we interact with children in Australia. So often we go overboard, thinking children need all manner of stimulation and excitement when really it’s about human interaction, stimulation of the senses and making sure our own energy is endless.]]


Sam Adam Klippan


As the sole physiotherapist travelling to Hanoi as a recipient of the HocMai scholarship I was filled with a nervous excitement as my final university examinations passed and my departure day approached. Did I have the necessary clinical skills? Would I be able to manage with the language barrier? Would I be able to satisfy my learning goals?

Thankfully I learnt very quickly that this nervousness was unwarranted. Hanoi had me under her spell immediately. We met the very welcoming Professor Duong after arriving and we were all assigned to our respective hospitals and areas of interest. I spent my time at Bach Mai hospital, which is one of the largest hospitals in Vietnam. I was warmly welcomed by the spinal rehabilitation unit and I struggled to take in the many new (and incredibly difficult to pronounce) names. Within the first few days I quickly gained a valuable insight into the Vietnamese character and healthcare system. Where they lacked in resources they made it up in enthusiasm, inventiveness, perseverance, generosity, a willingness to learn and a hard working ‘can do’ attitude. I was astounded to learn that almost all of the local staff that I met worked 7 days a week, year round!


2009 Reflections from health sciences students

Richard Blennerhassett


While sitting in the Hanoi international airport I have a few spare moments to reflect on the Học Mãi experience, some time to revisit my learning objectives prior to arrival here and an endless moment to ponder how I can ever put this experience into words. Here goes.

My background as a physiotherapy graduate, and a practising physiotherapist in a Sydney hospital, tempers my perception of the past month, and did influence my learning goals before arriving. Initially I was keen to see respiratory medicine and its practice from the perspective of Vietnamese doctors, nurses and obviously physiotherapists as well. I was keen to see signs and symptoms of conditions usually reserved for textbooks in Australia.

At our first meeting with Professor Duong he asked us what it was that we would like to see while we were in Vietnam. I experienced what could only be described as an instantaneous change of heart. I told him I would love to spend time in the department of Pathology at Benh Vien Bach Mai.