How a Doctor Found Hope for a Better Future

Learning Exchanges Improves Rehabilitation Healthcare in Vietnam

Healthcare in VietnamDr. Nguyen Van Chi strolls eagerly through the halls of Sirindhorn National Medical Rehabilitation Institute (SNMRI), passing by a department that specializes in speech therapy, another department that focuses on prosthetic technology, and still another that has an entire team of doctors and staff dedicated to child rehabilitation. As he observes the operations and structures of each department, new ideas bounce around his mind and a plan to institute world-class rehabilitation care within his own hospital in northern Vietnam begins to take shape.

Dr. Chi has devoted his life to improving healthcare in Vietnam and providing individuals with disabilities with the support they need to reach their potential and participate fully in society. He understands that Vietnam, where approximately 15% of its 95 million citizens have at least one disability, faces obstacles in delivering quality care to all persons with disabilities, especially to those in rural areas. It’s glaring, for example, that district-level rehabilitation hospitals simply do not exist. This means that Dr. Chi, as the Director of the Central Rehabilitation Hospital in Thanh Hoa province, is responsible for the care of all people with disabilities in a province that 4.5 million individuals call home.

With so many people depending on him, Dr. Chi cannot afford to dwell on limitations. Instead, he doggedly searches to improve the care available to his patients. His endless effort for improvement led him to take part in a week-long study tour of Thailand’s best practices in disability services, a component of the USAID-funded Partner Capacity Development program.

Vietnam doctorsDuring the tour, organized by Kenan Foundation Asia, Dr. Chi and 14 other Vietnamese doctors and officials met with Thai colleagues, stepped inside the homes of patients to learn about their experiences, and saw the latest rehabilitation technologies in action. Two elements in particular impressed Dr. Chi: the specialized structure of care at SNMRI and the model of community support to help patients reintegrate into society once they leave the hospital.

“These services are rarely seen in Vietnam, especially in the northern provinces,” said Dr. Chi. He noted that his own hospital only has a general rehabilitation department in which staff members must handle everything from speech therapy to hydrotherapy.

Dr. Chi weighed everything he saw and learned on the tour. The diverse insights and observations started to connect like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. Ultimately, he left Thailand with a plan of action to adopt three new features into his own hospital in Vietnam.

First, he will restructure his hospital to include specialized departments. He has already submitted this proposal to the Ministry of Health, including his plan to develop human resources to deliver quality, specialized care. Second, Dr. Chi will develop comprehensive guidelines for family and community members to support people with disabilities after they leave the hospital. In the coming months, he will begin piloting the new community support model for stroke and spinal cord patients. Finally, he aims to build a transfer house that enables patients to gain confidence living independently before returning to their communities full-time.

“The study tour was a very important visit that helped me gain a reference for my vision and goals,” Dr. Chi said.

Buoyed by the study tour, Dr. Chi’s vision for a better future for his patients became clear. His holistic vision, combining better care in both the hospital and community, will empower individuals with disabilities to overcome their unique challenges and lead productive, meaningful, and fulfilling lives.

To learn more about how the study tour contributed to improving healthcare in Vietnam, visit www.kenan-asia.org/vietnam-disabilities-study-tour

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