Reflections about the Women & Leadership program in Vietnam

by Kelly Guzman (Nurse Consultant – Transition and Activation Planning LA, USA)
Mr Minh, a lecturer of Financial Management at the University of Transport in Ho Chi Minh City, toured us through his facility. Mr Minh is applying for a master’s degree in logistics and material and supply chain. The campus has an open design and layout with classrooms surrounding a quad where the students can connect in the open air. Most students and people in the city use motorcycles and scooters so there were over 100 motorbikes in the quad area parked side by side which was quite impressive and I’m curious to know how they get out from the middle! There are approximately 70 classrooms with 40-70 kids/classroom and all are equipped with screens, overhead projectors and an AV system for the teacher to use for lecture. There are more male students than female at this university, which appears to be culturally driven since most jobs are construction-related fields such as engineering and technology and these jobs are considered “men’s jobs”. Some challenges at the university according to Mr Minh include:

• High student teacher ratio
• Teaching materials are not available
• Most of the materials are printed in Russian, need to be translated and are outdated
• More case studies for teaching purposes are needed
• Students need interview skills to obtain jobs post graduation.


We had coffee and our first light lunch with the delegation at the Sim Café and met with Ms Thuy a professor at the university with some of her students. Ms Thuy provided an overview of her programs, which focus on ‘How to influence young girls’. Discussion topics during lunch included the traditional and cultural roles of men and women at home and in the workplace. Culturally women are raised to essentially “do it all” and the men have been raised not to participate or to have a passive role with housework, child rearing, etc. Additionally, men have been discouraged to marry an educated woman because she may be more trouble than a non-educated woman. As a result, young women are struggling to go to school and have a career but get married based on past traditions and are expected to be married between 18-25 years old. The girls are considered “old” if they aren’t married by the time they are 30! The most interesting part of this discussion to me was the topic of sexual education, puberty, and “What’s happening with my body”, which are not taught in school or discussed among friends. As a result, children learn about sex the hard way. We had active discussions about pre-marital sex, rape, sexual harassment and strategies to address all of these topics. One of the girls, a 23 year old, commented that this was the first time ever that she had a conversation such as this! Very interesting.

In the afternoon we visited the Nursing School of Nguyen Taat Thanh University with Vice Dean, Ms Trinh Thi Loan and Luu Nguyen Duc Ha. Ms Loan has been a nurse for over 30 years and is referred to as the “Florence Nightingale of Vietnam”. She has a personal interest in improving the education levels of the nurses of Vietnam as well as implementing a home health care program. She has a very fascinating background and life story. She was sent to the USA with five other nurses to learn about nursing practice in 1975 because the skills and training in Vietnam did not exist at that time. She received several months of training in American hospitals and then returned to teach other nurses what she learned and to care for Vietnamese soldiers who were injured as a result of the war. She has studied and traveled all over the world to learn about nursing and at 83 years old, she is truly inspirational. This woman has seen it all!

Ms Hanh, is her heir apparent and although is tiny in stature and appearance, is quite powerful and dynamic! In the 7th grade she told her family that she was planning to study abroad so she began to prepare for her studies by taking English and going to the USA for her last two years of high school so she could attend university in another country. She went to nursing school in Wyoming, has a BSN and practiced there for about a year. Much to everyone’s surprise, she came back to Vietnam with a plan to stay for 6 months and then go to another country to gain additional experience. After 6 months she realized that her education and skills were needed in Vietnam, so she joined the faculty with Ms Loan and is currently studying international program development, translating curriculum into Vietnamese so they can teach current practices to their students. At 23 years of age she is truly inspirational and we are confident that she will do amazing things for her country! These nurses are great role models for nurses everywhere. Some challenges they shared with us included:

• Physicians dictate nursing practice
• Nurses are not allowed to practice as a traditional Western nurse and the 5 step nursing model.
• Nursing diagnosis are not allowed as this would be considered physician’s work
• There isn’t a standardized test to determine competency for all nurses
• Nurses do everything from patient hygiene to medication administration
• Public health and home health models are needed
• Basic research models and methodologies are needed
• Ratios are measured as physician to nurse and not nurse to patient
• Nurses in the ICU can care for up to 5 patients
• Some shifts are 16 hours
• Pay is poor in the governmental hospitals

The day ended with a delicious meal at Tandoor, Indian Cuisine where we were able to continue our conversations and enjoy each other’s company!