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A far-flung clinical rotation doubled as a mercy mission

  • Two Class of 2019 Pharm.D. students travel to Vietnam

    Thursday, May 16, 2019
    Marcus Mog and Lauren Antal

    For our public health rotation requirement as Doctor of Pharmacy program students, Lauren Antal and I traveled to Vietnam this past April on a medical mission accompanying Dr. Hoai-An Truong and his UMES faculty colleague Dr. Yen Dang.  

    To ready ourselves for this 13-day, 9,000-mile adventure, we made sure we had our overseas travel paperwork in order, got required vaccinations and purchased plane tickets.  All told, out-of-pocket expenses to participate were roughly $2,000 apiece.  

    We also prepared PowerPoint presentations on diabetes medications and complications, created treatment guidelines with assistance from drug information databases and arranged for $15,000 worth of medications and supplies.  

    This medical mission underwritten by International Community Initiatives (ICI), a Germantown, Md.-based non-profit, took us to two sites and three different villages where most people did not have access to clean water or basic living conditions like those familiar to most Americans.  

    After flying 22 hours to Ho Chi Minh City - previously known as Saigon - we headed north to Buon Ma Thuot in Vietnam's central highlands.  From there, we traveled another two hours to visit Buon Trap church where mission-sponsor ICI had provided $10,000 to pay for a professionally drilled well to serve 4,000 people.

    UMES' Dr. Yen Dang at a rural Vietnamese health clinic

    This gift enabled the church to provide clean water to the surrounding community as well as an impoverished village 90 minutes away.  We tagged along for a weekly delivery of bottled fresh water to that village, hauled painstakingly over unpaved roads by rudimentary tractor carriages, and saw up-close the difficult living conditions these people endure.  Having potable water has helped decrease dysentery and deaths in this area, something we take for granted.  

    The next day we traveled two hours to Tan Phuc church in a village southwest of Buon Ma Thuot in the Dak Nong province and set up a clinic where we anticipated we would see approximately 800 patients.  

    We awoke at 4 a.m. so we could be ready to run the clinic for these underserved communities.  Working alongside Vietnamese volunteer doctors, we served more than 900 patients and dispensed antibiotics, anti-parasitics, antifungals, non-controlled pain medications, vitamins and supplements, blood pressure medications, gout medication and other Vietnamese drugs to a steady stream of grateful patients.  

    The people who visited the clinic also were able to get haircuts and received a gift from the church, which contained food and supplies.  

    This was the first time almost all of the clinic visitors had been seen and treated by doctors and pharmacists.  After this clinic, we traveled to Rach Gia on the shores of the Gulf of Thailand, 155 miles southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, to visit the Kinh 7 Charity Clinic.  

    • Day 1: We conducted a clinician education and preparation event, where we helped train 80 clinicians on diabetes, smoking cessation and alcohol abuse.
    • Day 2: We helped run another clinic in a nearby town for approximately 500 patients.  
    • Day 3: We helped run a clinic at the Kinh 7 Charity Clinic, where we saw another 400 patients.   


    Dr. Truong, who is president of the International Community of Initiatives' board of directors, said “this public health and medical mission trained (more than) 40 clinicians, provided primary care for 2,010 patients, (made) 4,226 diagnoses, and dispensed 5,780 medications,” an average of “two conditions and three medications per patient served.”

    After these clinics, we next flew to northeastern Vietnam, where we visited Hai Phong University of Medicine and Pharmacy in a port city of nearly two million people to meet with the school's dean to discuss benefits of an exchange program it has with UMES.  

    The Vietnamese people were so kind throughout this medical mission trip and provided the volunteers with food and amenities during our stay.  

    This experience really put into perspective for us what a nation half way around the world with a rudimentary health care system looks like but also how we can really help people in need by devoting our time and money to help our fellow human beings.  

    While Lauren and I learned a lot throughout this medical mission, we also came away from it believing we would like to continue to serve this community in some way and hopefully visit again in the future.  

    This essay was a collaboration between Dr. Hoai-An Truong and students Marcus Mog of Damascus, Md. and Lauren Antal of Salisbury, who receive their Doctor of Pharmacy degrees at UMES' 2019 spring commencement May 24.  A 30-minute video of their 13-day trip can be viewed HERE.