MDB Scholar Reflection - Diana Huynh

From left to right: Dr. Truong Ngoc Tuong Vy, Dr. Vo Le Vi Vi, Dr. Phan Huu Nguyet Diem, and Dr. Diana Huynh 

Photo courtesy of Diana Huynh

This spring, through the support of the Mary Duke Biddle Scholars Program, I was able to study for six weeks at Children’s Hospital Number 1  in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  It was an incredible opportunity to both improve my Vietnamese language skills and work alongside amazing physicians.  In working towards a residency in Emergency Medicine, I have had to be mindful of what may lead to “physician burn out” and how I can proactively prevent the burn out before it interferes with my happiness in medicine and my work-life balance.

During a pulmonology clinic day at Children’s Hospital Number 1, the attending I was working with, Dr. Phan Huu Nguyet Diem, told me she had a busy, yet typical, schedule of about 40 patients that morning! This was considered to be a light patient load. She would spend 2-3 minutes with each patient, including history, exam, and patient teaching. Her patients were regarded as “VIP” and paid higher fees to be examined by her, the department chair. 

I watched her skillfully build rapport with the patients and parents, inform them about the harmful effects of second hand smoke, and teach parents how to properly use inhalers in asthmatic patients. She even found the time to share her wisdom with me!  Sitting with Dr. Diem that morning, I was brought back to my first quarter of medical school in Dr. Abraham Verghese’s class, “Body as Text”. We were taught about the privilege of interacting with patients during this vulnerable time in their lives and thus the importance of bedside manner and learning from our patients’ bodies rather than just their lab results or computer data.  Although still limited, I appreciate the luxury of time that we have in the US to dedicate to our patient encounters. 

As patient visits are often rushed in the emergency room, I hope to improve my communication skills and interact with patients as tactfully as Dr. Diem during her 2-minute clinic visits.  As a future physician, I find that patient interactions—no matter how short—are often the most rewarding.  Thus, it will be crucial to remind myself that interacting with patients is indeed a privilege; which will help keep me motivated throughout residency and beyond.

My weeks working in the PICU were particularly tough for me. I can still vividly recall the lifeless body of one infant who died in the PICU. Death is unavoidable in the field of medicine, particularly the emergency department.  This early in my training, I have not seen many patients die and I am still learning to cope with death.  In seeing death at Children’s Hospital Number 1, I found it important to be able to speak about my emotions with family, friends, and colleagues and to allow myself time and space to cry when needed. 

I chatted with one of my mentors there about how he deals with death, especially since he seemed to be surrounded by it in the ICU.  He told me that everyone processes death differently, but shared this quote that his mentor left him with, “I have no more tears to cry.”  Indeed, I think it will be an ongoing challenge to find balance as I experience death in different environments.  I will need to find balance between empathizing with patients and maintaining the emotional capacity to continue loving life.  Throughout it all, the support I am able to find in friends, family, and colleagues will be an invaluable crutch for me.

In the end, I am reminded of why so many of us choose a career in medicine.  It was inspiring to see a universal passion for science and desire to give back to the community amongst the physicians I worked with.  Even though I am graduating from medical school this year, there is so much more to learn and I am excited for what is to come!

Diana Huynh graduated from Stanford Medical School in 2017.  She is now completing her residency in Emergency Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

This reflection was edited for clarity and length.