Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Cares for Critically Sick Newborns in Vietnam

As soon as she met the neonatal nurses she would be training for the next two weeks at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital (VNCH), Mary Le was impressed.

In preparation for her second trip to Hanoi as a Global Healing volunteer in 2016, Mary had carefully prepared a lot of training material, including 15 slide decks.  

Not only had the hospital staff translated all of the training material into Vietnamese, they had also printed and bound it into books for each of the nurses who would be participating in the training.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” Mary says. “Everyone was so eager and excited to have the Global Healing team there!”

Now in its fifth year, our program at VNCH helps the medical personnel there to provide the best care possible by sending volunteers like Mary not only to train them in top level care but also leave them with the materials and skills they need to train others as well. On her most recent trip Mary provided training in topics including newborn assessment, pre-term infant care, congenital heart defects, bedside procedures, and caring for IV lines.

A pediatric nurse practitioner working at UCSF and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Mary has taught and trained over 50 neonatal nurses at VNCH, and hopes to go back soon.

Together with the VNCH staff, Mary designed a training format well suited to the needs of the participating nurses.  Every morning she led the group on bedside rounds, during which she’d ask a nurse to prepare a patient and then present the patient to the others. Later during the afternoon didactic training session, the group would pick interesting cases from the morning and talk about them, discussing everything that goes into caring for that patient.

The impact of Global Healing’s presence at VNCH was clear to Mary from the start.

“In the US, as a new neonatal nurse you get trained for about six months, both didactic and supervised training, in how to take care of very sick babies” says Mary. “Unfortunately, in much of the rest of the world, nurses don’t get this training, and are just thrown in and expected to care for these babies.”

On top of this lack of training, staffing ratios are often not conducive to quality care. “One nurse might be taking care of 10 very sick babies,” Mary says, “whereas in the U.S. I might be taking care of one or two.”

Through Global Healing’s program at VNCH, volunteers like Mary provide education and training in treating critically ill babies to up to 25 nurses at a time. The nurses Global Healing trains are expected to share their knowledge with others. Mary provided a basic understanding of neonatal nursing and helped the nurses apply that knowledge in their day to day work. As an example, the group learned about developmental care for babies.

When babies are born premature,” explains Mary, “we have to take into account their premature development, so positioning the baby is really important, as well as decreasing noise level, and making sure you’re only touching the baby at certain times.

Those sorts of things are really important for developing premature brains, and can be taught on paper and then again at the bedside so nurses can see that they’re getting better outcomes, and can teach others.”

Mary appreciated being evaluated by the participants at the end of every training session. “Global Healing really cares about their partners,” she says. “They care not only about what’s being taught but also how their partners feel about it. The relationship Global Healing has with VNCH is not a donor-beneficiary relationship but a truly equal partnership.”