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Synergistic Advances in Medical Teamwork

Updated: Feb 17, 2019

Significant, meaningful change rarely happens overnight. REI’s Mixed Medical Team (i.e., made up of doctors and nurses), led by Dr. Elaine Goehner, has been serving in hospitals in Vietnam for 10 years (or 20, depending on perspective; more on that below). We are seeing genuine advances in healthcare. One especially encouraging change is the dramatic increase in teamwork between hospitals as they share what they know with one another and work together to provide better healthcare to the Vietnamese people.

Which is more dramatic? A motorboat, or a rice paddy? Many people would opt for the motorboat, with its flashy speed, powerful roar and foamy wake. The thing is, a few minutes after the boat has passed, the noise is gone and the waves have calmed, and in some ways it is as if the boat was never there. We at REI prefer the unspectacular growth model. It takes time, it takes patience, but through investing deeply in healthcare professionals, we are seeing genuine, lasting advancements in healthcare in Vietnam. We don’t do the work. We aren’t the motorboats. We train others to do the work. We stay in the fields, seeking to help the shoots grow and the grain ripen.

And year by year we see quiet, steady, tremendously encouraging growth. One of our team members, Kathie Cowie, has seen more than most. She began her service in Vietnam 20 years ago, in 1997, serving initially at Viet Duc Hospital, predating our organized Nurses Team (aka Mixed Medical Team) by several years. Looking back over the past two decades, Kathie says, "For the past 20 years it has been my privilege to travel to Vietnam on a regular basis and work with many wonderful people. I have seen several positive changes and the hunger for knowledge increase. One should never underestimate the true value of investing time and self to benefit others, for as a result of this, not only has my own life been greatly enriched but also I am able to introduce new concepts in Vietnam that are readily accepted."

On October 20, during a conference on Patient Safety, Viet Duc Hospital honored Kathie for her 20 years of service. She was initially honored as part of a group of people who have contributed to Viet Duc over the years, but then was called to the stage by herself, as being in a class by herself. She lived in Hanoi and worked at Viet Duc for 2 years, and after returning to her native Canada has often come back as a short-term volunteer for up to several weeks at a time, continuing to serve at Viet Duc and also at Hanoi Medical University (HMU). One (of many) of Kathie’s contributions has been helping address the problem of Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) at HMU. “Since Kathie has been showing us what to do,” one nurse said, “we have had a significant decrease of VAP cases.” In other words, more people are alive today as a result of Kathie's input.

This year we saw something coming to fruition that we have been working toward for a long time: collaboration between hospitals. What is even more significant is that this is spontaneous collaboration between hospitals. In years past, hospitals were largely entities unto themselves, with little to no sharing of knowledge or resources. This year we saw a huge leap forward in this area. At one meeting in Hanoi, four different hospitals participated (National Children’s Hospital, Bach Mai, Viet Duc, and HMU Hospital). In Ho Chi Minh City, at a conference on Patient Safety led by Dr. Elaine and Dr. James Miser, representatives from 19 different hospitals were in attendance. “How did you get so many hospitals involved?” we asked Dr. Thuy, Director of HCMC ENT Hospital. “I invited them,” she replied. A simple answer, but these invitations used to come few and far between. We are delighted to see this increase in collaboration! We notice also that these relationships are quickly moving from sharing the purely technical, to a personal level. People are sharing their challenges honestly with one another.

We are seeing an increase in genuine partnership between doctors and nurses as well. In a hierarchical society, this is huge. We're not there yet, but we are encouraged to see progress!

We also see an increased camaraderie between nurses of different hospitals thanks to the deeply appreciated partnership of Azusa Pacific University, which in addition to providing several faculty members as REI volunteers, has hosted several leaders from National Children’s Hospital (nurses Hoa, Thuy, Hung and Dr. Duc) and Bach Mai (nurses Thu and Giang). These nurses received similar training for several weeks at APU, but also formed deeper friendships through their time together there. These leaders also share relationships with many REI volunteers, who have given greatly of themselves over the years. These leaders are now not only professional colleagues, but friends.

In addition to Dr. Elaine, Dr. Miser and Kathie, this year’s team included Dayna Holt, Brenda Beyer, and Russell O’Brian and Brandon Bartlett. Dayna, who is a faculty member at APU, is a specialist in vascular access (IVs to most of us). During one of her presentations on “Vascular Access Device Selection” at HMU, the head of the department kept leaping to his feet in excitement, exclaiming, “This is just what we need!” Brenda’s presentation on “EKG Interpretation” was received just as enthusiastically. As someone put it, the level of excitement was infectious! Russell and Brandon (below) are nursing students at APU, willing to come to Vietnam for a month of observation and training.

Why do our volunteers sacrifice time, effort and money to do this? You know the answer already.

For the people. That men and women, boys and girls, might live healthier, happier, more satisfying lives on every level. It is for this that we build people to build their nation. Thank you, Mixed Medical Team. Thank you, our dear hosts and partners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. And thank you, too, who are reading this, and who support REI in this service, as we work together to bring in the full harvest!

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