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Julius Mätzler – Standard Medicine in Vietnam

My decision to volunteer abroad

Local Vietnamese doctors listen to lecture

At the time of volunteering, I was a fourth year student from the medical university of Innsbruck, Austria. For my studies, I was obliged to do a 12-week internship; luckily for me I could do those 12-weeks anywhere I wanted. This is why I chose to go abroad for some of the time. I strongly believed that as a medical student, I could benefit a great deal by going to a country with a medical system different to ours back home, even if I didn’t speak the local language.

So why did I choose Vietnam? Southeast Asia always was a place of great interest for me. I first fell in love with the Asian culture when I travelled through Thailand and Malaysia a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I wanted to come back to discover other countries and meet their people and the best way to this is by working side by side with the locals.

My intention before volunteering was to learn about the local healthcare system, discover the differences between a European and a Vietnamese hospital, as well as gain knowledge in the field of cardiology. I really didn’t expect to be a full member of the team since I don’t speak Vietnamese and I was told that sometimes it could be difficult to interact with the local staff, because Vietnamese people can be very shy from time to time. But this was absolutely fine with me. I was happy to just shadow the doctors, observe and learn.

My Medical Project

St Josephs Cathedral, Hanoi

On my fist day at the hospital, I quickly discovered that the language barrier would not be that big of an issue as I thought it would be when I met Dai, a first year medical student from Hanoi University and my personal translator for the weeks to come. I also was surprised about the good English skills of my supervisor, Dr. Viet.

The first few days didn’t really go as I thought they would, instead of quietly following the doctors around the ward and looking over their shoulders, I spent most of the time meeting everybody, getting invited to lunch and shaking a lot of hands. I really can’t even begin to describe how welcoming everybody was!

After I met everyone, I quickly picked up on the daily routine at the hospital. I followed Dr. Viet around the ward with Dai always by my side, to help us out with his translating skills if necessary. I also got the chance to attend a few PCI´s in the Heart Catheter Lab as well as some gastroscopies thanks to Dr. Thuy, a doctor from the neighbouring internal ward.

The work of the Vietnamese doctors is in many ways very similar to the work of European doctors; they use the same techniques and drugs to cure illnesses. The great difference to our work in Austria is that in Vietnam, not everybody can afford insurance (and even if they can, the patient’s contribution is still very high), which leads to a constantly underfunded medical system and patients who only come to the hospital when there is no way around it. I saw lots people with very serious conditions due to a lack of preventive medical examinations.

Good hygiene standards are very difficult to maintain, since a lot of people have to share very little space. I often saw up to three people sharing a single bed. I was surprised about the level of diversity of the doctor’s knowledge at the hospital. You will find a variety of illnesses in the department of cardiology, ranging from heart attacks to severe neurological diseases as well as other internal complications. Specialties aren’t as separated in Vietnam as in a European Hospital.

All in all, my time in Hanoi was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t want to miss. I learned a lot, met great people and got to see how it is to work in a Vietnamese Hospital.

Julius Mätzler

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