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Published: July 22nd 2017
It's been approximately four years since my last blog entry but, alas, it is time to start it up again. A lot has happened in the past four years. After finishing up my post in Malawi, I then went back to the United States, finished some pre-med requirements, and started medical school at the University of California-Irvine. Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to go to Tanzania with ten of my classmates to teach ultrasound technology to 100+ clinical officers and other healthcare providers in the town of Mwanza on Lake Victoria. The trip ended with a safari in the Serengeti/Ngorogoro and a treacherous hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. While I did not blog about these experiences, the most memorable was probably getting food poisoning on my first day up Kilimanjaro and forcing myself to make it to the top despite being unable to keep down liquids or food and vomiting along the way. In retrospect, it was not the wisest decision.
But nevertheless, today I begin a new set of blog entries from a country and area of the world to which I have never been: Southeast Asia. Now in my third year of medical school, I am taking
a year off to pursue the Stanford Global Health & Media Fellowship
that will hopefully teach me how to more effectively combine film and medicine to advocate for healthcare issues both domestically and internationally. The first part of the fellowship, which is based out of Stanford's Center for Innovation in Global Health, involves working for an organization called Health Frontiers in Vientiane, Laos. Health Frontiers
has worked in Laos for over 25 years and functions to train post-graduate medical residents with the Lao University of Health Sciences and the Lao Ministry of Health. The organization has supported Pediatric Residency Training in Laos since 1997 and Internal Medicine Residency Training since 2002, and is currently developing a program to train Emergency Medicine residents as well. To date, the organization has trained 98 Lao pediatricians and 79 Lao internists.
My role while I'm out here will be twofold: 1) to help Health Frontiers produce physical examination videos that they can use to train the pediatric residents and pediatricians working in the more rural provinces of the country, and 2) to work with the local WHO office to develop media materials that they can use for their weekly 30-minute television health show on the state media channel.
Thus far, however, I have only been here for one week and am still taking in the sites, smells, and "newness" of it all. There are two primary differences that I can identify between this experience and my previous experiences working in Africa. The first is the quality of life. Unlike in Malawi (or Tanzania), the quality of life in Vientiane is actually quite comfortable. There are cafes/coffees shops on nearly every corner of downtown Vientiane and many have a seemingly limitless menu of coffee shakes along with an intriguing mix of Thai and French food. I have no doubt that these luxuries are somewhat specific to the ex-pat areas of Vientiane, but it is quite a contrast to the boiled water and mice-on-a-stick that I experienced in Malawi. The second biggest difference between here and my previous travel experiences is in relation to the political environment. While I was aware beforehand that Laos was a target for the United States military during the Vietnam War, I was not aware until recently that Laos is still, in fact, a communist country. To be honest, you might not notice any differences on the surface: the bright advertisements, international restaurants, and numerous
shopping centers make Laos (or, at least, Vientiane) seem as capitalist as any other place I've been to. However, there definitely are a few subtle differences that could easily go unnoticed. For example, when I first arrived at the Vientiane airport, the people at customs were at first not willing to let me bring in my video camera as freedom of the press is heavily restricted here (thankfully, they did let my cameras through once they knew that I would be using them to help with medical education in the region). In addition, many decisions--for example, deciding which newly-trained physicians will go on for post-graduate residency training with Health Frontiers--are decided on a consensus basis, with each province or hospital nominating their best and brightest.
Needless to say, I'm sure there are going to be many "firsts" during my time here, and as with any project in the developing world, I'm sure things won't always go as planned. However, I am very excited to get to know this new region of the world and I look forward to what this new experience and opportunity has in store!
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