May/June 2008

Physicians Build Relationships at Critical Care Symposium in Vietnam

06-08-Bach-Mai Photo

The group that traveled from the U.S. for the Critical Care Symposium at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi brought ventilators, stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors and other equipment.

One outcome of a sister-to-sister relationship between Bach Mai Hospital of Hanoi, Vietnam, and St. Anthony Hospitals of Denver, Colo., was a recent symposium in Hanoi that taught more than 600 physicians from Southeast Asia how to improve the quality of critical care. Diane Jones, vice president of healthy communities for Catholic Health Initiatives and executive director of Global Health Initiatives, attended the symposium. “The symposium was extremely well received,” Jones said. “The faculty included physicians from St. Anthony Hospitals, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Mayo Clinic. The Vietnamese physicians, many of whom traveled long distances to be there, were very eager to learn. But, there was mutuality to the education during our time in Vietnam. We can learn a great deal from Vietnamese doctors, who are skilled at working with severely limited resources. They are also very knowledgeable in the fields of toxicology and infectious disease, because they see so many cases.” Some of the funding for the symposium in Hanoi was provided by a 2006 Mission and Ministry Fund grant. The grant was presented to St. Anthony Hospitals for the development of the sister-to-sister relationship with Bach Mai Hospital. During her time in Vietnam, Jones was able to tour the expansive Bach Mai campus. There, she saw the realities of health care in a country with limited resources. “It’s a huge hospital, with more than 1,000 beds in multiple buildings that cover several city blocks,” she said. “The physicians and staff are very dedicated and are doing the best job they can under the conditions in which they must work. However, some of the very basic practices we take for granted in U.S. hospitals — such as the consistent use of masks and gloves — are not routine there.” There is also a shortage of medical equipment. “In the cardiology building, there were often two patients in one bed, and two beds — for a total of four patients — in a room with a single heart monitor,” said Jones. “That is one example of the conditions that Vietnamese health care professionals are working hard to improve.” The group that traveled from the U.S. to the symposium brought medical equipment for Bach Mai, including ventilators, stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors and parts for equipment used in intensive care units. “Because we brought these items with us into the country, we were able to avoid high customs tariffs,” said Jones. “Medical equipment costs roughly twice as much in Hanoi as it does in the U.S., so our contacts at Bach Mai were highly appreciative of what we were able to bring.” Jones found that Hanoi is a bustling city. “Like many cities in Southeast Asia, Hanoi is crowded, and there are millions of motorized vehicles that generate a lot of pollution,” she aid. “Many of the people on the streets or riding motorbikes and bicycles wear masks against the pollution. It made it even more surprising to see that masks are not always used in the hospital, even though the hospital windows are open to the outside air.” Away from the busy city, the U.S. group spent a day in Halong Bay with some of the physicians from Bach Mai. “This gave us time to get to know each other,” said Jones. “I was impressed with the Vietnamese physicians’ dedication, willingness to learn and their ideas for improving the health status of their country.” Jones noted that it can be easy to identify deficits in the health care systems of second- and third-world countries, but it is just as important see and learn from their assets and experience. “Something that the U.S. physicians at the symposium did very well was to ask their Vietnamese counterparts what they need to improve health care in their country,” she said. “They didn’t impose their own ideas, but listened to the Vietnamese doctors’ ideas about ways to establish a pre-hospital care system in an area with a poor transportation infrastructure. This may be the next direction that St. Anthony’s and Mayo Clinic’s relationship with Bach Mai will take.” For more information about St. Anthony’s sister-to-sister relationship with Bach Mai Hospital and other international projects supported by Global Health Initiatives, visit

06-08-Bartecchi Photo

Carl Bartecchi, MD, accepted an award from Vietnam's vice-minister of health, Nguyen Thi Xuyen, MD, PhD. Bartecchi is director of the Bach Mai Hospital Project supported by St. Anthony Hospitals, Centura Health and Catholic Health Initiatives.

Carl Bartecchi, MD, one of the organizers of the Critical Care Symposium held in Hanoi, was honored with a medal and certificate from Vietnam's Ministry of Health. "It was a complete surprise," said Bartecchi. "The best translation I have for what is on the medal is 'For caring for the people.'" Bartecchi is a champion of St. Anthony Hospitals' sister-to-sister relationship with Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi. He served as a doctor early in the Vietnam War and has worked to help the country and its people since then. He recounted his Vietnam experiences in his book, A Doctor's Vietnam Journal. "Bartecchi's journal and excellent photographs give us an understanding of the humanitarian spirit of some Americans who were involved in the devasting war in Vietnam," wrote Allen Hassan, MD, JD, in the New England Journal of Medicine. "I am sure the Vietnamese people he helped consider him a true Bac si, a term reserved for doctors who deserve the deepest respect."