Ms. Micaela Olsson, student of Gothenburg University, Sweden (20-05-2016)
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”-Exchange student in Hanoi Medical University, 2015

"I just came back to Sweden after a three month exchange program in Hanoi Medical University, Vietnam. During my time there did I participate in parts of two courses (Advanced Medical Nursing and Children Health Care) and one whole course (Community Health Care). I joined in both lectures in the university and practice in the different hospitals. The reason I decided to do an exchange program was because I know that I want to work abroad in the future. This kind of experience would give me a bigger understanding for different cultures, methods and perspectives in another kind of healthcare system that I am used to.

Well arrived in the country of smiles, Vietnam, did I get a very friendly welcome. Many people from the university were involved in my studies. Even thou I was registered in courses that didn’t apply to our earlier agreement, did the international coordinator try her best to sort things out in the best way possible. It resulted in some changing of plans and I started the right course already the same afternoon with a lecture.

The way the lectures in Hanoi Medical University and in Gothenburg University are hold is very different. From Sweden am I used to take a lot of own responsibility for my studies and I can decide which lectures I want to go and listen to. The most important is that I learn what I need to know. In Hanoi is the own responsibility less, where it felt like the most important was to be present. On the other hand is the participation in the class much more important compared to Sweden, where we normally have certain occasions to get examined.  The way things are organized in Sweden is through a database where all the information students need is collected. In the university in Hanoi goes all the information through a contact student that contacts the rest of the students in the class. And that was needed because plans about meetings, lectures, times and places changed often. The students I met during my time in Vietnam were the sweetest and most helpful girls and boys I could imagine. They helped and supported me a lot, especially with translating when the lectures were in Vietnamese or when I couldn’t talk to patients and people working in the hospitals. Even if I couldn’t speak the same language as the patients or other people in the country didn’t it stop us from communicate. There is many other ways to communicate than verbally. The body language is almost as useful as words. The most important is that both parts in the conversation want to understand and are trying.

The practice in the hospitals was where I saw the most of the differences in between the countries. The first place I went to for practice was the Respiratory Department in Bach Mai hospital. This place was where I saw the most extreme conditions. It was very crowded, with patients, family members, nurses, doctors and students in every corner. A room made for four patients contained 70 people at the same time. The patients shared the beds and they were up to four patients in one bed. This is something I am not used to from the hospitals in Sweden. The hand hygiene was not followed as strict as in Sweden, with washing hands, alcohol and gloves. I found that the importance of hand hygiene was something they were talking about in school but didn’t apply in the hospital. Many of the methods I saw are not used in Sweden. The people working in the hospital impressed me.  They were very hardworking and did the duties very fast. Their shifts were very long as well. I was talking to one of the doctors and she had a 48 hours working shift, but had to stay longer than that. I can’t see how someone can focus and do a good job with the right decisions after so many hours. But she explained for me that the alternative was to not have a doctor to take care of the patients at all, so finally I understood her decision to work for that long. This is just one example of how hardworking and motivated the people in the hospital are.

In Sweden we do all the care for the patients and the family members is sometimes only coming to the hospital to visit the patient a few times per week or not at all. In Hanoi I found out that the family members are doing all the care and nursing for the patients. There are positive things with that as well. The patients always have someone right next to them that they know to care for them, even thou the family members don’t have the right training and knowledge.

Something else I found very interesting in the different hospitals was the use of tradition medication from the family members. I saw someone covered in cucumber, for the pain. I saw someone with scars on the stomach to take away the pain. I saw a little girl in the Pediatric hospital with silver around the ankles to take away the fever. In the Elderly Care Center did they have monkeys which they used for the fur in case of heavy bleeding. If we eat the monkeybrain will we live longer. For me all this is very far from my own country, culture and I believe in place-bo effect, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

The way we are doing practice in Sweden is that each and every student has a mentor (a nurse) to go with in the hospital. In Hanoi the whole class is in the department together and only have very short contact with the responsible (a doctor) for that department. For me that was a bit less effective to go around, talk and examine the patients alone, because I didn’t know if the conclusion was the right. What I found interesting was the lecture with the patients. I could get a better understanding for the disease. We don’t have lectures like that in Sweden because of the integrity of the patient. The nightshifts in Hanoi did I find very interesting as well, because I could actually follow a nurse and see her daily duties.

Except all the good experiences I got from the Hanoi Medical University, did I have an amazing time in Vietnam. The beautiful and loving people I was living with. It was for sure the best place to live in the whole of Hanoi. The very tasty food, except dog and rat that I was too scared to try. And the amazing landscape in the north of Vietnam, with high mountains to climb, the small roads to ride a bike, the waterfalls, caves, national parks, lakes and much more.

One of the most important things I learn during my trip and exchange program is that strength lies in differences, not in similarities. Just because we are doing things in different ways doesn’t it always mean that one of the ways is wrong. It is important to learn from each other and bring the good experiences with us.

One day I will come back to the country where everyone is smiling. Vietnam, I will see you again!"



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