Growing up as a Vietnamese-American child with a precocious affection for science, I was often uncomfortable with the disparities between western modern medicine and my family’s antiquated home remedies.
When I complained of headaches/menstrual cramps/stomach aches/colds/allergies/general lethargy, adult relatives would prescribe that I rub dâu xanh (literally translated as “green oil”; active ingredients: methanol and methyl salicylate – a natural product of wintergreen plants) on the affected area, or swipe some underneath my nose and breath deeply. It has a refreshing minty aroma, but its health effects are otherwise dubious. Even stranger is the practice of cạo gió (literally translated as “scratching the wind,” but can be referred to as coining), which is often used in Vietnamese households to treat colds, respiratory problems, fevers, and fatigue. A person would rub the oil onto the patient’s back, and then vigorously and repeatedly drag a coin from the base of the patient’s neck to the lower back until prominent red abrasions appear on the skin. The tradition stems from a belief that illness resulted from imbalanced winds within the patient, and coining could release these winds and restore a healthy balance. The rubbing draws blood to the skin’s surface and may stimulate circulation, while the oils may have analgesic properties – explaining some of the relief reported by coining proponents. However, none of that is yet confirmed through scientific research.
This summer, I’m honored to be going to the University Medical Center (UMC) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to get a closer look at Vietnam’s modern medicine. The hospital is associated with one of the top medical schools in the country, and is regularly used as a teaching clinic for students and foreign physicians. I expect it will be nothing like my home remedy stories. There, I will be granted my first experience with physicians’ day-to-day, in a variety of fields. I will spend approximately a week shadowing a physician in general medicine, internal medicine, emergency, and surgery. I’ll also perform duties such as transporting materials and escorting patients throughout the hospital.
I have volunteered at the Children’s Hospital here in New Orleans before, and once shadowed my pediatrician for a day; but I have never shadowed extensively. The opportunity to learn the real stresses and procedures that physicians experience in their career is invaluable to me in my own career pursuits. I am especially thrilled to be studying medicine outside of the United States because it allows me to learn about health care systems different from the one I grew up in. The chance to spend a summer abroad, of course, is a sweet bonus.
Initially, my goal was to find a summer program in which I could gain an intimate look at medicine in practice abroad. I knew that the experience was one I was sorely lacking. After many hours scouring the Internet and asking around, I found several enticing programs – with hefty fees that I was unwilling to pay. I decided to find a position on my own to avoid overhead costs. I began sending out emails to hospitals in Vietnam, and eventually came into contact with a UMC physician who agreed to help me on my journey. I’m glad that I decided to ask the hospitals directly, as it gave me more control over the structure of my internship. Now, I am dying to finish finals week and begin what promises to be a memorable summer.