Kerry Goulston. Postcard from Vietnam. Health and medical cooperation with Vietnamese doctors and nurses.

In 1998, Dr Phillip Yuile visited Professor Ton That Bach, Rector of Ha Noi Medical University, with a letter of introduction from Professor Kerry Goulston, Associate Dean of Medicine at the University of Sydney who had been appointed by the then Dean, Professor John Young, to explore possible links between the two universities. Subsequently Professor Ton That Bach invited Professor Goulston to Ha Noi to discuss a collaborative association between Sydney University and Ha Noi Medical University which had been established by the French in 1902..

Professor Ton That Bach was highly respected by colleagues and beloved by his students, all of whom he knew individually by name. After he died suddenly in 2004 at Lao Cai he was given a state funeral and thousands paid their respects in the streets of Ha Noi.

A meeting was held in Ha Noi in November 1998 between Professor Ton That Bach and Professors Kerry Goulston, Professor Bruce Robinson and Associate Professor Phillip Yuile from Sydney University. The purpose of the meeting was to formalize ties between the two institutions and to begin planning future activities. At an inter-country level this process was facilitated by the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam at the time, Mr Michael Mann. A warm relationship quickly developed with Professor Ton That Bach who stressed that he foresaw a continuing association centred on young doctors and nurses between the two Universities. He said that, although traditionally there had been medical linkages with France, he would like to see new links develop with Australia.

Subsequently, in December 1998, an exchange program commenced with five students from the Sydney University Northern Clinical School spending an elective term in Ha Noi. Sponsorships were provided by the Sydney University Northern Clinical School, Ramsay Health Care, the Australian Returned Services League and private individuals.   In February 1999 the exchange relationship between the two countries commenced with Vietnamese doctors visiting Sydney hospitals under the auspices of the Sydney University Faculty of Medicine .

In December 2001, Professor Ton That Bach, his wife Dr Nguyen Thi Nga, Head of the Blood Transfusion Service in Ha Noi and Dr Dang Van Duong visited the Northern Clinical School and the University of Sydney where Professor Ton That Bach was made an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Medicine and met with many academics and clinicians and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two Universities.

Also in 2001, Hoc Mai, The Australia Vietnam Medical Foundation was established as a non-profit Foundation of the University of Sydney with Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales, as Patron. The name “Hoc Mai”, meaning “forever learning”, was proposed by three young Vietnamese doctors, Trinh Binh Giang, Nguyen Van Bay and Ha Phan Hai An.

Since 2001, over 300 Vietnamese doctors and students have spent time in Australia under the sponsorship of Hoc Mai. These have included postgraduate degree students, participants in short formal courses and doctors on short clinical placements.  In turn, over 200 Sydney University medical students have carried out their Elective Term in Vietnam under the supervision of Professor Dang Van Duong. There have also been numerous visits by individuals and teams of Sydney University academic clinicians who have lectured and taught short courses on a wide variety of topics in Ha Noi and at other centres in Vietnam.

Further Memoranda of Understanding between Ha Noi Medical University and Sydney Medical School have been signed by Professor Nguyen Lan Viet as Rector of Ha Noi Medical University in 2005 and by Professor Nguyen Duc Hinh who was appointed Rector of Ha Noi Medical University in 2008. Professor Nguyen Duc Hinh has visited Sydney a number of times and has been made an Adjunct Professor of the University of Sydney.   He has cemented the longstanding close relationship between the two universities.

 Medical English

In 2007 the first of many short courses in medical English was held at Bach Mai Hospital in Ha Noi. The aim of these free courses is to give Vietnamese healthcare workers who have basic English language competence the opportunity to hear conversational English spoken in a medical context and to assist them in speaking English. These interactive small group courses are intended to help with grammar, pronunciation, syntax, expression and medical vocabulary. Since 2007 many hundreds of Vietnamese doctors, nurses and other health care professionals have participated in these courses which have been held at several hospitals in Ha Noi. In 2011 this English language program was extended to include nursing students in the Ha Noi Medical University Advanced Nursing Program. These courses are held over four days in February and in September and are taught by Australian volunteer doctors, nurses and others who travel to and stay in Ha Noi at their own expense.

New methods of medical teaching

A one-day workshop was held  at Ha Noi Medical University in December 2009, attended by the Rector of Ha Noi Medical University, senior academic staff, clinicians and educators with the aim of determining educational priorities to which Hoc Mai could contribute. Four areas were identified: (a) teaching medicine and medical skills in English (b) defining learning objectives (c) introducing new teaching methods (d) introducing new methods of assessment. Subsequently, visits by Sydney Medical School academics helped to introduce new methods of assessment such as Scorpio and Mini-Cex for students and young doctors at Ha Noi Medical University and Ha Noi Hospitals.

Advanced Course in medical teaching and research for talented Ha Noi Medical University graduates

This course, which is conducted in English, is intended to provide a select group of outstanding recent Ha Noi Medical University graduates with ideas and tools to enable them to introduce and lead change in medicine and health care in Vietnam in the future. The course, which has been held yearly since 2010, was originally funded by Atlantic Philanthropy but in the past five years has been supported by competitive grants from AusAid and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and through the generosity of several private individuals.

The course  has three components: (a) periodic four-day visits to Ha Noi Medical University by small teams of Australian clinical academics from a wide variety of specialties  (b) on-line interactive tutorials held approximately every 3 weeks (c) a four-week visit to Sydney involving two weeks of intensive tutorials and a two-week  clinical placement in Sydney hospitals.

Each year, around 60 potential participants are chosen by Professor Nguyen Duc  Hinh, Associate Professor Ha Phan Hai An and Associate Professor Van Dang Duong on the basis of their academic record. All are then interviewed in Ha Noi by Australian Hoc Mai members using a structured interview to assess their ability to understand and speak English. Applicant’s curricula vitae and referees’ reports are also taken into account. Through this process around 20-25 are selected to attend the four-week immersion course in Sydney.

The curriculum of the entire Advanced Course covers topics which are essential for future health care in Vietnam but which are not widely taught at present. These include but are not limited to: evidence-based medicine, communication skills, patient management plans, assessing clinical skills, effective clinical handover, medical ethics, professionalism, disability , leadership management, clinical errors and patient safety, child protection, pain management, hospital infections and hygiene, smoking cessation, health workforce, research methods, medical statistics, using the internet for clinical purposes, presentation skills, publishing a research paper and preparing a curriculum vitae.  Individual course components and the program as a whole are evaluated anonymously by the participants and reported to the teachers. At the end of the course, depending on the availability of funding, a number of participants are selected for an intensive four-week program of further teaching and supervised placements at Sydney Medical School and associated hospitals in Sydney. In addition to this program, Professor Owen Dent has conducted three day-long workshops on the use of the SPSS statistical computing package in clinical research and in February 2016 year a workshop on hospital management and leadership was held in conjunction with the February session of the Advanced Course in Medical Teaching and Research and the Medical English program. This was organised by Professor Huong and was attended by 140 participants.

Kerry Goulston is Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Sydney.

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