We know: it’s unusual for pharmacy students to intern abroad. But Kristine wanted to do something different, and joined ELI Abroad in Da Lat, Vietnam.
“The price with ELI was so great, and they were willing to work with my school to make sure I got academic credit,” Kristine says.
An experienced ELI Abroad staffer acted as her preceptor, coordinating with ELI’s Vietnamese placement partners to ensure Kristine fulfilled all of her university’s internship requirements.
Although she speaks Vietnamese, Kristine is quick to point out that anyone can do it. Some of the pharmacists spoke enough English to communicate, and coordinators that accompany interns also help translate.
“The staff at my placement was very helpful, and so happy to teach me as much as they could,” she says. “They love people who want to learn.”
Da Lat is in many ways an ideal internship placement. Set in south Vietnam’s Central Highlands, it’s lush, much cooler than the rest of the country, and still retains the relaxed vibe of the popular resort getaway it used to be in the French colonial era.
Kristine lived in a guest house, and often worked 6 day per week. Evenings and Sundays off were dedicated to exploring Da Lat and getting to know the people around her - coordinators, fellow staffers and other interns.
The day began early - around 7:15 - and was filled with opportunities.
“I put in IVs, took blood, helped with ultrasounds, vaccinated patients and conducted different types of blood tests in the lab.”
The experience gave her invaluable insight into the realities of medicine in the developing world.
“They don’t have all the necessary equipment, and some of what they do have is outdated, so their results may not be the most accurate.”
It also exposed her to procedures she’d never seen before or heard about in school.
“One woman came in itching from an allergic reaction,” Kristine remembers. “In the U.S. we’d usually recommend she take Benadryl and send her on her way. But in Da Lat, they gave her an IV, took out 6 cc’s of blood, and injected it into her butt!”
It worked, apparently.
“Pharmacy taught the ‘Vietnamese way’ was fascinating,” she says. “You really come to respect different approaches to medical care.”
In retrospect, Kristine has some advice for those considering interning in Da Lat.
“Arrive three days before your internship begins,” she suggests. “That way you acclimate, get to know the town, and finish your orientation before your work kicks in.”
If you have a lab coat, bring it, or purchase one in Da Lat. Bring clothes that cover your legs and feet.
Be professional: treat your internship seriously (this is more than an exotic adventure) and most of all, be engaged.
“I firmly believe interns should be proactive, ask lots of questions and volunteer their skills.” she says emphatically.
She remembers staffers were most responsive to those who actively sought out opportunities.
“They’re polite, and will assume that a person who hangs in the back and doesn’t participate wants it to stay that way,” Kristine warns. “But when you come forward, reach out, show you care and want to learn, the staff totally responds.”
Kristine also says, form relationships with the Vietnamese people.
“Get to know your coordinator and try to befriend your coworkers. It will really enrich your experience, and you’ll learn so much more than just pharmaceutical stuff.”
Since returning from her internship, Kristine’s been full of encouragement for others to give it a try.
“Now everyone in my program wants to go to Vietnam,” she laughs.
ELI Abroad says, bring 'em on!