Steve Dunning, MD, MPH, has been volunteering in Laos since 2008. Steve spent 2 weeks in May 2015 volunteering at LFHC.
I spent two weeks at Lao Friends Hospital for Children in May as a volunteer doctor. It was a fantastic experience and I hope to come back again and again. Here is why.
During the time I was there, only the outpatient clinic was operational, but in a few months the inpatient service will also be active. The outpatient clinic saw between 50 and 80 patients each day. There are 6 Lao doctors all enthusiastic and 5 of the 6 are new graduates with limited clinical experience. The sixth has pediatrics residency training and has just retired from government service at the provincial hospital so has a lot of clinical experience.
Patient care is free which means the clinic is attracting patients who could never afford to see a doctor before. Many are from remote villages and minority groups. Fevers, rashes, chicken pox, skin infections, cleft palates, malnutrition, appendicitis, pneumonia, congenital heart disease, thalassemia with severe anemia, diarrhea, skin infections are some of the things we saw.
Helping to teach the health team to recognize and manage these conditions in a low resource setting was both challenging and extremely gratifying. The emphasis is on health education and compassionate care and the entire team of nurses, medical assistants, doctors, pharmacists, lab techs, x-ray and ultrasound, outreach and administration was very enthusiastic and very receptive.
The model has the expatriate doctor paired with a Lao doctor for each patient interaction. As such the chance to interact with the clinic staff and the patients is unparalleled and I learned as much about tropical pediatrics as I taught. Each morning has a half hour devoted to patient care topics in the classroom. In addition there are scheduled didactics and English classes in the afternoons for the staff.
The town of Luang Prabang is beautiful set on the banks of the Mekong river and deserves its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I stayed in a peaceful guesthouse and bicycled to the clinic each day. There were opportunities for social interactions with the staff and some weekend sightseeing.
For me the most satisfying aspect of my experience was the feeling that I was part of a new health care model for Laos. Care regardless of ability to pay, compassion, health education, in a setting of an enthusiastic patient care team. I can’t wait to come back in August and be part of this again!