Here is our first APAMSA Global Health Spotlight. For the month of March, we would like to feature our member, Taman Hoang, and her experiences with global health.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Tâm An Thị Hoàng, although I go by Taman. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and immigrated to the United States when I was four years old. I grew up with two distinctively different cultures: Vietnamese and American. Though my mother did incorporate some “American” ideas into my upbringing, she always insisted that I remain true to my roots. It was for that reason that I went back to Vietnam in my teenage years to volunteer and to explore my origins. My travels to Vietnam inspired other trips to different parts of the world, from Panama to Nepal and sparked my interest in global health. After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I then pursued an MS in Global Medicine at USC where I was given the chance to go abroad to Panama and work in acute primary care clinics for the indigenous populations there. Shortly after, I was accepted into UC Davis School of Medicine. Before I began medical school, I had the honor of being accepted into the 2015 Good Samaritan Medical and Dental Ministry (GSMDM) cohort and was able to revisit my homeland. I felt I had come full circle, because it was one of my initial trips to Vietnam that drove my desire to go into medicine. I am currently a second year medical student at UCDSOM and have continued my love for global medicine by being on the Nepal 2016 team that journeyed to Kathmandu and some of the remote mountainous villages of Nepal last June.
Can you tell us more about your experience in Cao Bang, Vietnam? How did you find out about this opportunity?
Word of mouth was how I came to join the 2015 GSMDM group. A good friend of mine, Donna Tran, did a GSMDM mission a few years back, and it was through her encouragement and amazing stories that spurred me to apply.
How were you able to fund your trip?
At the time that I applied and accepted into the cohort, I had several tutoring jobs. I worked during the week and many weekends, while scheduling around our fundraisers for the mission. While it was a challenge to save money for the trip and pay my current living expenses, being able to fund myself taught me a lot about time management and how to be just a bit more frugal with my spending.
What was one specific experience during your trip that really stuck with you?
I was in Cao Bang, Vietnam when I met Linh with her bright yellow t-shirt, and her brighter smile. Cao Bang is a northern region of Vietnam that is isolated by mountains. Like many other rural regions of Vietnam, there was a severe shortage of doctors in the area. I had been taking patient histories for GSMDM (Good Samaritan Medical and Dental Ministry) when she entered our mobile clinic and took her turn in the seat across from me. She was twenty-four years old, and blind. Linh had wanted to be a teacher before she lost her sight due to a brain tumor that was removed too late. During our patient interview, I remarked that she had a lovely smile. “Thank you. I believe that my smile reflects how I’ve chosen to look at life,” was her response. Patients like Linh are the reason that I have chosen to pursue a career in primary health care.
What was the most difficult part of your trip?
One of the most heartbreaking things about any medical mission is that you cannot help everyone. There are cases that will always break your heart, and it was the forced acceptance of this that was difficult. Like in the case of Linh, there was nothing more we could do for her. But I think the reality of these missions is that it is not about what you can give to the people of this or that country, but what you learn from them by being there. Every time I go on these medical missions, I always feel like I should have given more, and at the same time, I feel like I received so much more than what I did give. I get the privilege of listening to these people’s stories and carrying with me as I go onward in my journey in medicine, and no matter how difficult it is to listen to some of their stories and realize that you can’t save everyone—every heartbreak is still worth the trip.
What draws you to Global Health?
The multidimensional aspect of global health is one of my favorite aspects of this field of medicine. Global health is all about making connections and learning from one another. In particular, I enjoy seeing different health systems all over the world and the cultural and socioeconomic factors that affect health in different countries.
Do you have any advice for other students interested in Global Health?
You learn in Global Health that healthcare is truly interdisciplinary. When you immerse yourself in it, don’t view it from the lens of a hierarchy. No one person runs the show, but everything about it is a team effort and a systems based approach. Learn about other professions and see what their impact may be on health and health delivery. And always, be humble and open to input and ideals from a wide spectrum of professionals.