Editor’s Note: The following post was written by HVO staff member Kim Rodgers. Kim is the Volunteer Placement Coordinator for HVO’s dermatology program and works closely with on-site personnel at each of our dermatology project sites. Two of the dematologists Kim works with at the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy (HUMP), Dr. Tran Ngoc Khanh Nam and Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Phuong, recently took the time to chat with Kim about their career trajectories and the impact of their involvement with HVO.
For Tran Ngoc Khanh Nam, MD, the practice of dermatology is a family legacy. Her father was a dermatologist, and he brought his young daughter with him to the hospital whenever possible.
“I [would] feel really uncomfortable seeing how skin diseases affected the appearance of the patients, and I would think … I will be a dermatologist when I grow up,” Dr. Nam said during a recent phone conversation.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Thanh Phuong also gained her first exposure to the medical profession early in life. Her role models as a child were her parents, both of whom were physicians. This family background in medicine has allowed both Dr. Phuong and Dr. Nam to see firsthand how much the practice of dermatology in Vietnam has changed in recent decades.
Many of these changes mirror larger shifts in the global health sector. For example, the rise in noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, has led to an increased focus on the prevention, early detection and treatment of these diseases in dermatology as in other fields.
Dr. Nam now fields frequent questions from patients about choosing and using sunscreen products to prevent skin cancer. Dr. Phuong, meanwhile, has become a pioneer of early detection efforts among the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy (HUMP) dermatology staff with her studies of dermatopathology—the practice of analyzing and interpreting skin biopsies to detect disease.
Dr. Phuong’s training in dermatopathology has been supported by HVO volunteer Dr. Harvey Weinberg. Dr. Weinberg first met Dr. Phuong in 2015, while completing a volunteer assignment at HUMP. Upon learning that there was no trained dermatopathologist at HUMP, he invited Dr. Phuong to spend six weeks at Columbia University developing her biopsy interpretation skills under the supervision of Dr. David Silvers. Receiving a Wyss Scholarship to help fund her studies in New York City, Dr. Phuong developed a host of new skills that she was able to share with her colleagues in HUMP’s dermatology department.
“The first year I was [working at HUMP] in 2015, we rarely did biopsies because we didn’t have anyone specializing in dermatopathology,” recalled Dr. Phuong, “but from 2016 to 2017, we have done more and more biopsies, more than 200 now. Now thanks to dermatopathology, we can help the patients at the very early stages of the squamous cell cancer.”
Dr. Phuong’s enthusiasm for dermatopathology has led her to dream of one day building a dermatopathology institute at HUMP. Since Hue is centrally located and HUMP is one of the nation’s largest medical schools, Dr. Phuong believes a dermatopathology institute would lead to collaboration and improved medical care for patients not only in Hue, but throughout Vietnam.
Dermatologists at HUMP have already begun to share resources and strengthen ties with their colleagues at other institutions throughout the country, a process facilitated by HVO volunteers. In particular, Dr. Nam mentioned the impact of an annual subscription to VisualIDX, a diagnostic software tool, that was donated to the university by HVO volunteer Dr. Laurie Good.
“VisualDX is a very good tool that we use every day,” Dr. Nam said. “And some of our colleagues in Hanoi also wish to have it and we have created accounts for them, and it helps us to strengthen the relationships between Hanoi and Hue.”
Drs. Nam and Phuong both mentioned their appreciation of the departmental advances they have witnessed as a result of the partnership between HUMP and HVO. Dr. Nam noted that many of these advances stem from the collaborative relationships that grow between HUMP staff and HVO volunteers.
“Here in Vietnam we don’t have appointments, so we don’t know each day how many patients we have to treat,” she explained. In the past, this often led dermatologists within the department to treat patients quickly without taking the time to talk to patients and get to know them. This began to change when the staff at HUMP observed how HVO volunteers interacted with patients.
“[They] often talk to the patients and they joke, and make them comfortable … This affects the psychology of the patients, and they often smile,” Dr. Nam observed.
The practice of prioritizing quality interactions with patients has taken off with the dermatologists at HUMP, and both Dr. Nam and Dr. Phuong have been very pleased with the results.
“I believe that our clinic is the most friendly in our university hospital,” she said, “and most of the patients say that when they came into our clinic they felt less fear because we are so friendly. Now we always give the patients time to talk.”
Are you a dermatologist interested in learning more about HVO’s efforts to improve the quality and availability of dermatologic care around the globe? Hear from HVO executive director Nancy Kelly, MHS, during the American Academy of Dermatology 2018 Annual Meeting in San Diego! Ms. Kelly will speak during the continuing education session, “Volunteers Abroad: Beginners” on Friday, February 16 from 1-3 pm. Experienced volunteers may also wish to attend the follow-up session, “Volunteers Abroad: Advanced,” from 3:30-5:30 pm.