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‘Doctor Strange’ of Vietnam: man chooses homeland over money

Tuesday, May 31, 2016, 17:15 GMT+7

As more Vietnamese brains leave the country in search of opportunities in more developed economies, a Vietnamese-born American doctor has opted to return to Vietnam and work in a low-paid public hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

The doctor in question is Tran Hoang Minh, a 29-year-old Vietnamese American who began his job in the emergency ward of Go Vap District Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City last July.

Thanks to his fluent Vietnamese, of the hundreds of patients treated by Dr. Minh, none have known that he is in fact an American citizen

‘Why did you choose to return?’

Minh moved to the States with his family when he was eight years old, but never gave up on his mother tongue during 20 years of living there.

He would use Vietnamese in daily conversations with his parents, who never failed to remind him that “as a Vietnamese, you have to be able to speak your country’s language if one day you wish to return."

Minh would almost unfailingly visit his grandmother and relatives in Ho Chi Minh City every summer throughout his time living in the U.S., keeping him familiar with the Vietnamese lifestyle and environment.

After four years at the University of Houston, Minh went on to study medicine at the University of Queensland, Australia, a choice he explained would allow him to work as a doctor in both Australia and the U.S.

Minh had a change of heart before his graduation however, and decided that he would return to Ho Chi Minh City to take care of his grandmother and help patients in need at home instead.

The young doctor smiled when asked whether his family had supported his decision, answering by quoting his parents’ own words, “Work where your heart wants you to, as long as you feel happy about your decision. You have our full support.”

Minh returned to Vietnam from the U.S. last July, and began considering hospitals to apply to shortly after.

His approach was to play patient and request treatment at several public hospitals in the city to evaluate the service of each one. Go Vap District Hospital caught Minh’s attention because of the way it treated patients with respect and care, in addition to its proximity to his grandmother’s house.

On the day Minh submitted his job application and sat for an interview, his interviewer and director of the hospital Dr. Pham Huu Quoc could not conceal his surprise, asking him “Why did you choose to return?”,  before explaining that a doctor’s salary at public hospitals in Vietnam is much lower than that at private ones and in the U.S.

“I work for passion only, and don't attach much importance to money,” Minh said in response. “I’m fine with making enough to live on.”

On his new recruit, Dr. Quoc said, “Over the past seven months, Minh has proven himself a highly skilled and responsible doctor. He’s humble, friendly, and devoted to his patients. He’s always looking for the best treatments and ways to keep his patients satisfied.”

A breath of fresh air

Public hospitals in Vietnam have traditionally been infamous for long waiting lines, hasty examinations and unfriendly medical staff, but Dr. Minh has been held in high regard by his patients, who have described him as a caring, approachable, and responsible doctor.

Pham Van Chinh, father of a young patient who received a phone call from Dr. Minh to follow up on his daughter’s condition two days after the girl had been discharged from hospital, described how surprised he and his wife had been by the doctor’s action.

“We were very surprised as that was the first time we had known a doctor to do such a thing,” Chinh said. “We even wondered where that doctor had come from for him to be so kind.”

Several of Dr. Minh’s other small acts of kindness such as showing up ahead of time to substitute for night-shift doctors, taking care of patients with no available family, and showing patients to their room are not so common in Vietnam's public hospitals.

After working in the country for a few months, Dr. Minh observed the distance between doctors and their patients, especially those with no money or professional qualifications.

Dr. Minh said his guiding philosophy is to always put his patients first, as every patient is an experience that helps doctors improve their skills.

He has also been using his own money to provide the hospital with necessary items such as water bottles, electronic thermometers, and an oxymeter.

Dr. Minh is currently working with an IT friend to write a program which asks patients questions based on their symptoms before directing them to the appropriate ward.

Visiting patients at their house

There was once a female patient who was prescribed a medicine that could cause dizziness.

Worried about the patient’s health and unable to find her phone number in the hospital’s records, Dr. Minh went all the way to the patient’s house just to ask if she had suffered from dizziness after taking the medicine.

Dr. Minh said it is common practice in the U.S. for medical workers to follow up on their patients’ conditions after the initial examination, though it is usually carried out by phone.

He has been keeping his own records of each of his patients’ conditions as well as their satisfaction with his service, which he said would be helpful for his future treatments.

Asked whether he planned to stay and work in Vietnam or return to the U.S. in the future, Dr. Minh said he had “settled down here,” adding with pride how he had been issued an ID card and is now one hundred percent Vietnamese.

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