HOPE volunteer experiences cultural differences and similarities at Vietnam hospital

Posted By Christine Booth on June 12, 2017

Labels: Vietnam , Health Systems Strengthening, Volunteers

Pacific Partnership volunteer in Vietnam

HOPE volunteer Christine Booth changed careers after 25 years to become a registered nurse. She currently works on a medical surgical floor in a hospital outside of Rochester, NY. She recently served on a Pacific Partnership land-based mission trip in Vietnam. She and 10 other HOPE volunteers implemented side-by-side training to local health care professionals and provided patient care.

Nursing is a second career for me. Previously I was employed in the property management industry for 25 years becoming a Vice President/Asset Manager overseeing a portfolio of 10,000 apartment units in several states. But I had become disillusioned with the corporate world and saw numerous openings in the local newspaper for nurses. I started working as a patient care technician to see if nursing would be a good fit. Within six months my father was hospitalized with a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side. My mother and I cared for him for three years until he finally succumbed. While sitting at his bedside one day, I made the decision to return to school and begin the process of becoming a nurse.

I graduated four years ago and decided to go on this mission in an effort to help those less fortunate than myself. Although I have been on three medical missions in the past, this is my first medical mission with Project HOPE.

While in Vietnam, I worked alongside the Navy nurses on the burn/wound ward of DaNang General Hospital. The hospital ward was divided into groupings of six patients to a room with a small bathroom to share. The windows opened up into a hallway where the patients’ clothes were hung to dry. The two patients I cared for lay on metal beds covered with a straw mat. Next to them were the provisions for their stay: water, snacks and meals provided by their family. The Vietnamese families are extremely involved with patient care and play an active role in their recovery.

Vietnam Pacific Partnership volunteer

I was surprised to find that two of my patients were suffering from injuries as a result of the Vietnam War.

My first patient was a young man who was employed as a soldier. One month earlier he had stepped on a landmine and was severely injured by the explosion that severed his left arm, which was now amputated below the elbow. He was also blinded by the blast and had several wounds on his right arm and hand. His brother stood by his side and cared for him.

The second patient was an older man who had been returning to the hospital for the past 40-plus years for ongoing treatment for a non-healing wound on his left shin from the Vietnam War. He had a prosthetic on his left leg and a glass eye on the right. His son was there to help with his care. While changing the dressing on his wound, his family handed me a tube of Aspercreme (a topical pain reliever) to apply on his leg. The cost of this over-the-counter ointment was 700,000 Dong – the equivalent of $30 U.S. dollars. According to, the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker last year was $145. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the medicine would not heal the wound but only reduce pain and discomfort to the area. I applied MEDIHONEY (a medical-grade honey-based product for the management of wounds and burns) and covered the wound hoping this one application would stimulate wound healing.

I would definitely go on another mission trip with Project HOPE in the future. As I do on all my trips abroad, I saw firsthand that people are people. Regardless of our cultures – mothers, fathers and children all experience the same challenges, joys and sorrows.

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