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How a medical volunteer trip in Vietnam opened the mind of a University of Arizona student to the different ways of performing medicine

Kimberly Pham

Third year undergraduate student majoring in Physiology at the University of Arizona, Kimberly Pham (21) will be doing her honors thesis on acupuncture and the differences between Eastern and Western medicine. Kimberly thought signing up for a volunteering program with Projects Abroad in Vietnam would  be a good way to gain more hands-on  experience in her academic field while  giving back. “I wanted to help others in  need and give back to the community by  participating in activities that will make  me more open-minded as a future health  care provider.”

A day at Kimberly’s placement – the National Hopspital of Acupuncture - started at 8am and finished at 4pm. She worked in the Paediatrics Autism Department where traditional medical practices like acupuncture and massaging to treat autistic children are done. Kimberly assisted the local doctors and nurses with taking off and attaching the electrodes as well as removing needles and massaging. “I think I enjoyed massaging the most because the children were more relaxed and not screaming!” shared Kimberly.

“During the first week, they asked me to remove needles and put on electrodes which was very hands-on. It was a little bit quick for me because back in the States I wouldn’t have been able to do that. But I thought it was nice because it helped me to adapt more effectively.”

According to Kimberly, acupuncture is not very popular in Western countries, “Actually, a lot of people look down on it – they much prefer western medicine and technically they prefer taking medicine rather than performing acupuncture or taking traditional medicine.” This experience in Vietnam shed light on the underrated positive effects of traditional medical methods. “I heard a lot of families saying how well their children have become after the acupuncture sessions. They have been to other hospitals but they said that the contemporary medical methods couldn’t help the children much. That’s why I think acupuncture has worked quite well for them!” Kimberly also shared what she plans to do to develop the results of this volunteer experience, “This experience made me more interested in how acupuncture works, so I think I will do more research about it when I get home.”

To Kimberly, this is a great opportunity for pre-med students like herself to get experience in the medical field, “It opened my mind a lot to the different ways you can perform medicine, not just concentrating on what’s in books. I think volunteering in a different country is really a good experience for all college students because you are young and you can help other people and get to see other cultures rather than just plainly travelling.”

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