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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 2 | Jan. 24, 2002

Vietnam supplies one-of-a-kind experience for dental residents

Lessons learned go beyond dentistry, says alumnus

Whole families perched precariously on speeding mopeds is one of the images that Ali Behmard associates with a recent three-week residency rotation in Vietnam.

"The huge volume of people and the numbers of motorcycles made a big impression as soon as I stepped off the plane," says Behmard, a UBC dental school alumnus who is completing a one-year general practice hospital residency.

The rotation at the Institute of Odontostomatology in Ho Chi Minh City is the only such training experience among Canadian dental schools.

Moped and motorcycle riders in the city of 6.5 million don't wear helmets and Behmard reports that he saw about 24 dental traumas daily, most related to motor vehicle accidents.

In addition, he assisted oral surgeons in Operation Smile -- a one-week blitz of surgery on cleft lip and palates. Vietnam has one of the highest incidence rates of the deformity in the world.

Behmard was able to assist in some of the more than 200 surgeries completed by local surgeons and those from Europe and North America who come to the country to help with the intensive program.

"In my entire undergraduate education, I only saw about three of these cases," says Behmard. "The amount of dental, academic and life experience I gained on this rotation was amazing."

He was impressed by patients' gratitude for the care they received even though many of them were sleeping on the floor in hallways because of bed shortages. Many families were unable to afford complete surgical care, he says, and it was difficult to see patients, including children, leaving hospital with reduced function and aesthetic losses.

"Everything I saw made me truly understand the value of health care," he says. "It was wonderful to help where your help is really needed." Behmard traveled to Vietnam with Chris Zed, Faculty of Dentistry's assistant dean, Strategic and External Affairs, and also postgraduate programs director.

"This is a huge learning experience for residents," says Zed. "It builds their skills, broadens their scope and allows them to offer service in a way that matches the area's needs."

North American hospitals cannot offer the same variety of experience for trainees, he says, because there are many fully qualified staff to handle surgeries. Also, residents on Third World rotations are exposed to oral conditions not seen in North America because Third-World dental care is limited and diseases progress further and with more complications.

The rotation was enabled in part by the University of Ho Chi Minh and by UBC Dentistry alumnus Andrew Tsang who works in Vietnam at an international clinic.

Zed worked with him to establish the scope, goals and partners of the new program which may expand to include resident lectures given to staff at the city's cancer control agency.

Septodont, a Quebec-based anaesthetic manufacturer, sponsored the 2001 residency rotation. This year's resident will travel to Vietnam in November.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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