VietNamNet Bridge – Doctor Luan Thanh Truong, head of the medical unit in Thanh An Commune of Can Gio Island, never regretted his decision to volunteer to work here – one hour from the mainland.
Young doctors from the Viet Nam-Cuba Dong Hoi Hospital, who volunteer to work in the remote mountainous commune of Ngan Thuy in the central province of Quang Binh’s Le Thuy District, deliver free-of-charge medicines to the Van Kieu ethnic minorities.
Truong, now in his 40s, first set foot on the island seven years ago, when he heard the doctor there had quit his post.
There are only six full-time medical staff, who provide mostly free medical care to the 1,165 households in the commune.
As the only doctor, Truong said he had to work in all areas, from dealing with trauma to orthopedics to baby deliveries.
“The distance between here and land obviously put off many people,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to transfer our cases to hospitals on the mainland, especially when the weather is bad. We continue our work because we identify with the suffering of residents here.”
Truong said he was first inspired to work in medicine after a doctor saved his life. After taking the examinations six times, he got a spot at the Pham Ngoc Thach School of Medicine in HCM City.
Truong remembered one rainy night when a patient in Ly Nhon Commune was in critical condition due to prostate gland problems. The patient’s house was close to the river and water was rising. The electricity had gone out.
“I couldn’t see clearly where the road was and had to climb on tree branches and fences to get into his house,” the doctor recalled. “The patient cried so hard because I came on time.”
During his time in Thanh An Commune, he was required to transport a patient to a hospital on the mainland. After surviving an hour of the rainy sea, the patient – and her nurse – also burst into tears.
“They remind me why I can’t leave this place,” he said.
Muoi, who has lived in the commune for more than 40 years, said she had never seen anyone more devoted to his work than Truong. “Those who do not have money can pay him an egg, a chicken or fish,” she said. “No matter what they pay, he treats them the same.”
In 2006, Truong said, he took an exam to continue his medical training: “One elder told me that she was hoping I would fail the exam and stay on the island forever. I didn’t pass – so I guess I will stay here for a long time.”
Viet Nam has made concerted efforts to improve access to healthcare for residents in rural and mountainous areas. Since Decision 1816 was issued in 2008, the Vietnamese Ministry of Health (MoH) has rotated staff between urban and rural areas to narrow the gap in the quality of treatment between localities. By May 2011, 542 hospitals were involved in the project.
More young doctors should work in rural areas as a way to learn outside the box, said Nguyen Hoai Thu, a doctor at the surgical ward of Medical and Pharmaceutical University in HCM City who has gone as a volunteer to provide surgeries for people in mountainous areas since 1995.
In those areas, she said, some of the residents did not bother getting treatment – even if their problems were severe – because of their lack of knowledge and extreme poverty.
“The doctors in the areas we visit, from Da Nang to Ca Mau, are very eager to learn new technologies from us. But they work in very difficult conditions, lacking even the most basic things like needles and threads,” she said.
Despite the difficulties, however, Thu believed doctors could learn invaluable lessons from working in these areas.
“I didn’t know that many people were desperate for our help. After just a 45-minute surgery, we could change their lives in ways they had never imagined – walking straight, smiling,” she said.
Starting tomorrow (Doctors’ Day, which falls on February 27), the Ministry of Health will officially kick off a programme to deploy young doctors to far-flung, mountainous areas. About 500 doctors are scheduled to work in the nation’s 62 poorest communes between 2013 and 2016.
Officials believe the initiative will help narrow the gap between urban and remote areas. The doctors, selected by test scores and other recruitment devices, receive free training.