“Forever Learning”: the Hoc Mai medical exchange program, 1998-2024

Jun 2, 2024
Hanoi_dhyk. Hanoi Medical University

During the 1990’s Associate Professor Phillip Yuile of Sydney University visited Vietnam many times, helping hospitals to establish Radiotherapy there. In 1998 he met with Professor Ton That Bach the Dean of Hanoi Medical University (HMU) who subsequently invited me to visit Hanoi with a view to establishing a connection with postgraduate medical education in Australia, specifically Sydney Medical School, as Vietnam’s links had previously been with France.

Later that year, as Associate Dean of Medicine representing Sydney University, I visited Professor Bach in Hanoi. He was an extraordinary person: a cardiac surgeon of international repute, a leader who knew all his 500 students by name, a man who worked 6 days a week in Hanoi, then on Sundays visited rural villages in the far north of Vietnam, to treat residents as an ordinary doctor. Professor Bach wanted an ongoing association with Sydney Medical School in postgraduate medical learning. He said at the time “… we learn from you, and you learn from us”.

In December 1998 an exchange program commenced with four students from the Northern Clinical School of Sydney University spending their elective term in Hanoi. By 2001, ten medical students from the Northern Clinical School were able to spend four weeks in Hanoi hospitals on Scholarships funded by donations. This exchange program continued in the years ahead, and was aided from the beginning by Professor Bruce Robinson, Mr Michael Mann, then the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, and also by the then Dean of Sydney Medical School Professor John Young. Professor Young visited Hanoi himself in 2001, to sign a Memo of Understanding between the two Medical Schools.

This led to the establishment of the Australia Vietnam Medical Foundation [ Hoc Mai ] which has continued to raise funding for the interchange of medical students, young doctors and nurses between the two countries. The name ‘Hoc Mai’ was chosen by Dr Hai An, Head of the Renal Department at Viet Duc Hospital and means ‘Forever Learning’. Subsequently, hundreds of young medical professionals from a broad range of disciplines have spent time learning from their colleagues in Hanoi and Sydney. Two times a year, a group of 6-12 doctors, nurses, allied health personnel as well as community members have visited Hanoi to both teach and to learn. Initially such education encompassed the teaching of “Medical English,” but in recent years this has proven to be less necessary. Since 2008, Jane Klein from Newcastle has arranged an annual Advanced Course Nursing Program in Hanoi and Owen Dent has organised a number of Workshops on Writing Medical Articles.

Many Hoc Mai Fellows from Vietnam have evolved into leaders in Vietnam medicine.

Examples include Le Ngoc Thanh now Rector of Education at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Hanoi, and Nguyen Huu Tu now Rector at Hanoi Medical University.

Over the years, Assoc. Professor Duong Dang Van [ known to us as Duong ] of Hanoi Medical University has been our representative in Hanoi, looking after our students and  medical graduates visiting Vietnam as well as planning our visits. We could not have managed without his untiring support.  Additionally, our own hospitals—particularly Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney—have been extraordinarily receptive.

Assoc. Professor Chris Pokorny has assumed responsibility for the Hoc Mai program in recent years—particularly successful in arranging Zoom meetings and discussions over the difficult pandemic period. Jane Klein from Newcastle has succeeded in developing nurse-to-nurse education in Hanoi since 2008 in the annual Advanced Course Nursing Program.

Now, 25 years on, there have been notable changes in the everyday lives of Vietnamese. The streets of Hanoi are packed with cars, replacing the bikes and motor cycles. English has supplanted French as the dominant second language of the Vietnamese, as many begin English education in pre-.school.

Medical care in Hanoi hospitals is of a high standard. The first year class in Hanoi Medical University has well over 500 students. There is little we can now teach young Vietnamese health professionals in a strictly didactic way, but bringing them to Australia, for a 3-4 week placement in a specific hospital environment is continuing, and remains valuable to both sides of this educational partnership. Looking back over 25 years of visiting, and medical teaching in Vietnam we have learnt a great deal from the Vietnamese and I believe that Ton That Bach was right; we can always learn from each other.

Over  25 years, Kerry Goulston visited HMU in Hanoi 43 times, at his own expense. Initially when he was Assoc. Dean at RNS Hospital. Friendships were made. Trust was most important. An excellent fund raising campaign  was led by Maggie Drummond which facilitated Scholarships for young Vietnamese doctors to spend  time at Sydney University Medical School. Kerry was inspired by his father who after retirement as an Honorary Surgeon at RNS Hospital and the Children’s Hospital spent 6 months in Vietnam in 1969 as a member of the Australian Civilian Medical team.  A great achievement by Kerry Goulston….. John Menadue

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