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New Colombo Plan

Vietnam’s culture of learning a boost for Australian sonography students

A New Colombo Plan mobility project supporting Central Queensland University sonography students to take up international placements with Vietnam’s Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy is proving to be much more than the usual practical placement.

Head of Medical Sonography at Central Queensland University (CQU), Jane Wardle says the Vietnam internship plays a key role in broadening the students’ experience before they graduate.

Group photo of the Central Queensland University sonography students in front of a clinic.
Central Queensland University sonography students have had the opportunity to undertake clinical placements in Vietnam since 2017.

“We have been offering this opportunity since 2017 and it continues to be a real asset for our students,” Wardle says.

“Our program is the only undergraduate pathway to sonography in Australia and providing the 2000 to 2500 placement hours for students to qualify can be a challenge.

“Being able to offer some of that practical experience in another country and one where the health system is quite different and the way sonography is practiced is different, is invaluable.”  

Sonography or diagnostic ultrasound is a high demand technology used in the diagnosis and treatment of a range of conditions from appendicitis to liver disease and in monitoring pregnancies or the development of other conditions such as blood clots or kidney stones.

The 19-day trip includes two full weeks of clinical placement.

“The first thing the students discover in Vietnam’s health system is that there is no such thing as a sonographer,” Wardle says.

“In a country that has less resources than we have in Australia, doctors are trained as radiologist specialists, and they conduct and analyse sonographic procedures.

“This means our students get to work with specialist doctors during their placement, and that has proved to be a really positive experience because those doctors are so keen to share their knowledge with our students.

“Their approach is generous and interested, not only to teach but to learn from our students as well.”

Fourth-year sonography student Peter Nguyen, says exposure to the Vietnamese health system – and the vibrant and engaged people working in that system – has been energising.

A graduate in paramedic science, Peter decided to study sonography to build a career that would allow him to work and travel.

Photo of sonography student conducting a sonogram on patient.
Students get to work with specialist doctors during their placement.

“This was my first trip out of Australia, and it was eye-opening but also incredibly enriching,” he says.

“We saw a lot more end-stage disease and unusual medical conditions than you would typically see in Australia, and we were working with different equipment and different approaches to sonography as a tool.

“Our mantra became, ‘not wrong, just different’, because while some of their processes were unfamiliar to Australian practice, they had the same end goal, which was best patient care.

“In Australia you might do a stomach scan that would take in all of the torso, in Vietnam they focus on the area that is painful or symptomatic and they scan, assess, and provide diagnoses in real time.

“All the doctors and health care staff were really helpful in explaining their processes, so we were learning all the time.”

Wardle says the learning environment in Vietnam is hugely beneficial for the 10 – 18 students who take part.

“It is more common for doctors to be involved in student training in Vietnam and there is a great deal of respect for the role of teacher,” she says.

“Our students are welcomed almost as part of the working health community while they are there and support for their learning is 100 per cent.

“They are also very driven to lift the bar of radiology in Vietnam, they want to be better radiologists and show a real openness to learning from the experience of our students – it is an enthusiastic engagement that is respectful and open to the concept of lifelong learning.”

Wardle’s additional studies in neuroscience have convinced her of an essential truth about the clinical placements in Vietnam.

“The brain is an amazing thing, when taken into new environments it fires up and quite like a sponge, it sucks up everything new,” she says.

“For students this heightens their capacity to learn new information, so I tell them they will never learn so much so quickly.”

Along with the learning Peter believes the experience also built confidence, not only in his professional skills but also his ability to adapt to different ways of living.

Group photo of sonography students.
The mobility project is delivered in collaboration with Vietnam’s Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy.

“Vietnam is alive and energetic,” he says.

“The people are vibrant and when you walk down the street you get a sense of a bustling but linked up community, and that was incredibly attractive.

“Ultimately, I want to travel and work in different environments and this experience has boosted my confidence to pursue that goal.

“I feel very lucky and grateful to the NCP to have been selected to be a part of the Vietnam placement and I think it will shape my approach to my career.”

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