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Business & Profession Cataract, Glaucoma, Retina, Other

From Trainee to Teacher

What drew you to medicine?

There was a tradition in Vietnamese families for one member to become a doctor to take care of everyone else. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, and even though it wasn’t necessarily what I thought of doing, I’m glad it chose me. As for anesthesia, when I applied to work at the newly opened hospital in Da Nang, they asked if wanted to be an anesthetist because they needed one. So I went to Ho Chi Min City to study anesthetics.

Luu Tong and Andrew Choyce
How many pediatric anesthetists are at your hospital?

It’s just me! I work with seven anesthetic nurses who help me to organize the drugs and prepare the patients, but when I first started there was only me to deal with patients and very small babies. I was scared because I was alone, so I only worked on patients five years old or above. When Orbis visited our hospital in 2006, I had a great opportunity to learn from their volunteers. The Flying Eye Hospital has visited us four times now, and volunteers and Orbis staff such as Andrew have visited on their own. Thanks to these visits, I now have the confidence to help much younger patients, from one month of age. It has been so helpful and I have learned so much; what I can now do for patients is all thanks to Orbis. Before I could anesthetize younger children, they had to travel to Ho Chi Min City or Hanoi, which was not ideal because some parents didn’t have enough money, or the child’s condition was too complicated. Some parents couldn’t go with their child, which was sad. But now, we can care for younger children in the center of Vietnam and the highlands.

How does it feel to now volunteer for Orbis?

When Orbis call and need me, I say “I’m ready!” I have worked with many other organizations, but I am so impressed with Orbis. They are the only organization I have worked with that focuses on training doctors and nurses, which is so important because the help for patients continues when the volunteers leave. They have made me strong and confident, and now I can work with them to help others in my position.

I am so proud to be an Orbis volunteer – it is a dream come true. Since joining, I have volunteered in Vietnam and worked on two international programs in China and the Philippines. I could have never imagined that one day I would also be with Orbis; they are my family, my hospital is my family – we are all joined together.

Andrew Choyce, staff anesthetist at King’s College Hospital, London, UK, and Orbis staff anesthetist

What led you to your involvement with Orbis?

I have always had an interest in working in lower- and middle-income countries. Within 18 months of finishing University, I took myself off to New Zealand and found a position in the South Pacific. I loved it, and once I started in anesthesia, I never lost the love for the work and challenging myself in more difficult environments. I started volunteering for Orbis in 2005, but I then gained the opportunity to be more involved, and I have actually worked part time for Orbis since 2010. It is to their benefit that I continue my job in the UK so that I can maintain a broader set of skills, and I think it is important as a working clinical doctor that I maintain my proficiencies within my own country. I probably travel for around 12–14 weeks of the year and can respond at short notice if they need someone.

How has it been to see Luu progress?

I have worked with Luu many times over the past 11 years in various capacities; sometimes as a hands-on trainee and more recently as a volunteer. She’s also been invaluable as a colleague and as a translator! It has been a real pleasure to see her skills develop to the point that she has joined us as a volunteer; before she started to receive training she wouldn’t anesthetize anyone below the age of five. Orbis recognized Luu’s potential and invested in her training, providing opportunities to work with British and American volunteers and receive fellowships both in Ho Chi Min City and at Stanford University. She is very dedicated to her work, and she has really concentrated on improving her skills as well as giving a lot of time to improving the safety of surgery at her hospital – as well as doing a lot to improve things on a national level in Vietnam, through in-country volunteering. We have always kept in touch via email, and we regularly exchange ideas, information and advice.

What do you consider one of the most valuable aspects of Orbis?

We often take for granted how hospitals are often close by. But in some countries, patients may have to forego their livelihood for a week to travel, receive their treatment and follow-up, and then travel home. In places like Vietnam, where income is often dependent on farming activity, this can be very difficult for patients. I remember a parent of a patient who was in tears at the end of a screening day because she had realized that not only was the surgery going to be free of charge, but that accommodation would be provided for them. The relief of that parent had such an impact on me; it brought home to me how people’s economic status truly affects everything. It is something that Orbis takes seriously, and they advocate for high-quality eyecare and promoting services that are affordable. We help build the capacity of our partners, helping to improve safety and identifying people, such as Luu, who can invest in the good of their hospital and their partners. By identifying Luu as a doctor dedicated to Da Nang Eye Hospital, we have invested in the long term success of the hospital, even after the end of a 5-year partnership between Orbis and Da Nang.

Orbis fights avoidable blindness around the world. Find out more at orbis.org.uk

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About the Authors
Andrew Choyce

Andrew Choyce has worked with Orbis for over 12 years. He initially joined the organization in 2005 as a volunteer. Since 2010, he has worked part time with Orbis as a staff anesthetist, splitting his time between outreach programs and working as a consultant anesthetist at Kings College Hospital in London, UK.


Luu Tong

Luu Tong is a pediatric anesthetist at Da Nang Hospital, Vietnam, and a member of the Orbis volunteer faculty. She began her journey with Orbis in 2006, when the Flying Eye Hospital first visited her hospital in Vietnam. Four visits later and a sponsored fellowship at Stanford University, Tong now volunteers for Orbis and has completed charitable missions in China and the Philippines, as well as working to improve eyecare in her native Vietnam.

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