Chemistry Major Gains Medical Experience Through Project Vietnam

Nebraska Wesleyan University student Sean Tomes always knew he wanted to study abroad. But like many science majors, Tomes’ schedule didn’t leave much room for a semester away.

Instead he took it upon himself to find a summer program that would combine his academic interests with the opportunity to travel.

So he turned to the internet and stumbled upon Project Vietnam, a program that would provide him with the opportunity to travel the country and participate in valuable medical volunteer work.

“I went to Lincoln Northeast High School, which is pretty diverse, and I met a lot of Vietnamese people who introduced me to their culture,” he recalled. “I then purchased Rosetta Stone for Vietnamese to learn the language. After learning a little of the language, I wanted to try and go to Vietnam to try out my conversation skills.”

The chemistry major then took the necessary steps to turn his wish into reality. He applied to the program and was interviewed by Project Vietnam’s founder, Dr. Quynh Kieu.

Upon his acceptance, Kieu shared with Tomes that he would work with needs-based assessments in pediatric rehabilitation clinics.

“I felt like it was something I could still do because they could speak to me in English,” he said.

As the trip grew close, Tomes learned to accept uncertainty.

“It was really kind of on the fly,” he said. “I had to let things be uncertain. After a two-week camp with Project Vietnam, I was by myself traveling by train. I wasn’t sure who was going to pick me up or where I was going to stay.”

In Vietnam, Tomes participated in a two-week service camp that set up medical camps in the poorest parts of Vietnam. In those two weeks, they saw over 3,600 patients.

“The days were long,” he said. “We worked for over 13 hours of the day. We woke up at 7 a.m. and worked until 8 p.m. I helped with vitals like taking blood pressure, height, weight, and made sure the clinic ran smoothly. I also got to shadow a lot too.”

When the two week camp concluded, Tomes headed to another part of Vietnam to meet up with the head nurse of Vinh Children’s Hospital. There he job shadowed several doctors and medical professionals.

Project Vietnam provided Tomes with valuable medical field experience, and it opened his eyes to a world unlike his own.

“It really just opened my eyes to how lucky we are here,” said Tomes. “There was no toilet paper, blankets, pillows, doors, or air conditioning.”

Despite being alone in an unfamiliar country, Tomes made the most of his experience and came back a different person.

“I went into it with an open mind and a willing heart to make a difference,” he said. My perspective of the world has changed, and I’m so much more grateful for what I have here.”

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