I awoke the morning of June 1, 2014 realizing that I was leaving Hanoi. Three months had finally came to an end and the feeling was incredibly bittersweet. I applied for the job as a KCE/EBSCO Global Health fellow because I desired to be connected with people around the world. I desired to grow and learn from others with technology. I got that wish and so much more. The damp warm air of Hanoi, the many people that I met, the lessons I learned, the knowledge I gained, and the inspiration to continue my career after Hanoi were packed away as I prepped to return to my home. I was happy to be going home, but I did feel sad that I could not experience even more of Vietnam and other surrounding areas. I also recounted the events that shaped my experience in Vietnam and how they might affect my life back in the US and the new set of values that I gained from the people I interacted with. Before coming to Hanoi, I was quite introverted and worried about how I would find my way through the rigor of hospital work life. In Vietnam, I learned the value of camaraderie, decorum, unflappability and gregariousness.
The thought of always having to be “on” worried me, but, surprisingly, I became less introverted because I realized that in order to succeed in Vietnam I quickly had to grow into a better me. I would not have succeeded in Vietnam the way that I did without the assistance of others and the exponential value of networking. Learning how to manage being introverted enabled me to find a great apartment in Hanoi through networking. I found the airport because I spoke up and made new friends in Mindy and Mai who even helped organize a ride to the airport in an ambulance for me. I learned about Vietnamese culture through my interactions with friends, my landlords’ family, taxi drivers, and the local motorcycle drivers. My personal growth has made the job search and graduate school application process easier for me because I feel even more comfortable with people, more secure in unfamiliar environments, and more confident in my abilities.
When I arrived home, I was ecstatic to see my family and be back in America. Yet, in many ways I felt that I left one home to arrive to another. When I arrived at my house and began unpacking my bags and trinkets, I began ruminating more about my experiences in Vietnam. I thought about PEMsoft and how many inquiries and requests that I received about it. During my first few nights back at home, I dreamt that Mindy and I were in a large board room explaining PEMsoft to a legion of super important looking people. I think my brain was trying to manifest the meeting with USAID that we never got a chance to continue. In the first few days of the trip, Ron and Michelle had a meeting with representative from USAID in Vietnam. We had hoped to continue meeting with the director of USAID Vietnam but we never got the chance to do so. This series of dreams might just be the expressions, hopes, and assessment of PEMsoft’s success in the future years. I know that PEMsoft is going to be a key product among medical professionals soon. The user interface and ease of use is somewhat like second nature to many of the younger doctors and medical staff. The application is easy to learn so those without much experience with mobile applications can use it effectively. KCE’s previous study in Vietnam revealed that even though PEMsoft was not in the participants’ primary language, Vietnamese physicians were able to effectively able to use the software to answer clinical questions. During our exit interviews, we got information on how to improve our product. I imagine that with some of these suggestions in place, PEMsoft could easily be part of a national healthcare strategy program in Vietnam and other areas in the world.
My fellowship experience in Hanoi was unyielding and it was hard to watch people being impacted by some of our world’s worst diseases. However, the fellowship deeply solidified what I feel will be my life’s work – helping people and researching methods to combat health disparities. I will be a global health professional. My entire life, before I knew the profession existed,I knew that I was interested in global health, because I grew up an immigrant community. My parents often told me about a plethora of diseases prevalent in Nigeria, where they are from, and how much of a travesty these diseases cause because of the lack of skilled medical professionals in the villages. My father would cringe when he received phone calls from his village as they were often reporting a devastating illness in the family or a death. I knew that millions of people were just like me and wanted to know why their relatives and, by extension, themselves were suffering. However, I never imagined that just over a decade later I’d venture to Vietnam and be on the other side of those calls and physically see those illnesses firsthand. I have been at home for two weeks and I still hear some of the mothers crying and the beep of the equipment.
Before I went to Vietnam, I rarely imagined what my relatives who had died in clinics or the car ride over to the hospital or the overcrowded emergency room went through. Watching how people operate in a resource-challenged setting is difficult because you wish that there were more that could be done. In Vietnam, I saw some of the consequences that economic inequity has on a healthcare system and how that effects care. Watching patients navigate the system at NHP has expanded my knowledge and helped affirm my desire to research strategies that could reduce health disparities globally and domestically. Thanks to this experience, I have a clearer idea of how disparities are created and the challenges one faces to eliminate them.
I’ve been refined since Vietnam. I’ve become a stronger, more focused, and more determined me. I want to fight the good fight for people’s health around the world so that fewer and fewer families have to endure the heartache of a dying family member. Looking at Vietnam through an American lens, I realize that one primary difference between our two countries is the greater access people have to services in the US. Other than that, we share the same sky, desire many of the same things, and value happiness. Although my time in Vietnam is over, my story is only just beginning.