Stories From the Field:


Medical Mission Trip to Vietnam with Project HOPE

A staff nurse at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Brooke McGrath, RN travelled to Vietnam with support from the MGH Global Health Travel Award in 2017.

Project HOPE is a non-governmental organization founded in 1958 with a mission to support health care in communities around the world by building capacity, improving quality, providing care, and supporting clinical operations. One of the many missions Project HOPE participates in is the Pacific Partnership with the United States Navy. This annual humanitarian and disaster response exercise brings together national and NGO partners to help prepare countries to respond effectively during natural disasters. In addition to the disaster relief training, the Pacific Partnership also provides health care training and clinical services to the host communities.

I joined the Project HOPE and Pacific Partnership in Vietnam for three weeks in DaNang and Nha Trang in 2017. As one of five registered nurses supporting the Project HOPE mission to Vietnam, our goal was to develop a relationship with our Vietnamese colleagues and share our knowledge and clinical skills in support of their needs and goals. We worked alongside Navy nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, doctors, surgeons, and Vietnamese translators provided by the Navy. 

During the first half of my trip I worked at the largest hospital in Da Nang - the Da Nang General Hospital - on a few different units including the burn and wound unit, ICU, and rehabilitation unit. On the burn and wound unit, I helped with dressing changes to severe burns and wounds and taught my colleagues to use supplies specifically for burns such as Silvadene and Medihoney. I also had the opportunity to scrub into skin graft and lasering contracture surgeries for some of the more severe burn patients.

From the outset, our Vietnamese hosts were excited to collaborate with us and to share their knowledge and skills. We would spend the end of each day with the charge nurse and staff nurses exchanging our nursing similarities and differences along with many laughs. We were also able to make educational presentations on preventing pressure ulcers, preventing ventilator-associated pneumonia in the intubated patient, the Morse fall risk scale and the Braden Scale. Eager to learn, it was rewarding to see our Vietnamese colleagues taking our presentations and applying the lessons to their clinical care, including raising the head of the bed for an intubated patient from flat to 30 degrees, or turning their patient to another side to prevent a pressure ulcer.

The second half of my trip was spent in Nha Trang, splitting time between the Nha Trang General Hospital and the Nha Trang Rehabilitation Hospital. As the Navy and Project HOPE had never been to these hospitals before, our role was to establish a relationship for the next mission and to learn what the nurses and doctors felt were the most important areas for support and change. I spent time the Emergency Department helping the nurses screen patients and on the neuro/spinal injury unit. We were also able to provide educational seminars, listen to what the nurses felt could be done better at their hospital, and catalogue some of the resources and tools the staff felt they could benefit from in the coming year. 

At the end of my trip, I reflected upon each day that I spent in Vietnam and realized that although we are worlds apart in cultural differences, language barriers, resources, and temperature, there is so much that we have in common as nurses and as people. We are all caring humans who have an innate desire to make a difference in other people’s lives, we are compassionate, we have a passion for learning, and we are dedicated to the health and well-being of our patients. No matter where we are in the world, we are all one in the same: mothers are still mothers, fathers are still fathers, children are still children, and nurses are still nurses. To be a part of such an amazing opportunity as a volunteer with Project HOPE and to collaborate with the US Navy to care for the people of Vietnam was not only an honor but inspiring. I hope that someday soon I can participate in another mission trip.