Vietnamese doctor in Japan lauded as good Samaritan

By Minh Trang   August 5, 2020 | 05:58 am PT
Leading daily Kyoto Shimbunhas praised Doctor Pham Nguyen Quy for rendering yeoman service to the Vietnamese community facing language barriers in Japan.

In the chemotherapy ward of the Kyoto Min-iren Chuo Hospital's outpatient department, Doctor Quy checks on the health of a woman with cancer. He patiently and kindly explains things to her, helping her undergo the treatment with less stress and greater peace of mind.

This is a key facet of Quy’s work – providing accurate diagnostic information up to date for the Vietnamese community living in Japan, the Kyoto Shimbun noted in a feature published last month.

Kyoto Shimbun is one of the largest daily newspapers in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. It runs a "Good people, good deeds" column that introduces acts of kindness displayed by locals in Kyoto. It is rare that foreigners are featured in the column.

Doctor Pham Nguyen Quy is featured on Daily newspaper Kyoto Shimbuns publication on July 19. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Doctor Pham Nguyen Quy is the subject of the "Good people, good deeds" column carried by Japanese daily Kyoto Shimbun in its July 19 issue. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Born into a family of traditional medicine practitioners in Hue, Quy went to Japan in 2002 with a scholarship from the Japanese government.

The 37-year-old doctor said that at first his dream was to simply study abroad to bring advanced Japanese techniques and treatments to Vietnam. However, Japan's medical principle of "Omotenashi" (meaning hospitality) and the value his work provides to public health as well as the local Vietnamese community have kept him there.

The Vietnamese doctor said he realized that the physician's task is not only to heal physically but also provide the mental support that aids healing.

In 2008, Quy was one of eight students sent to the United States' Harvard Medical School for an internship. When he was there, he saw promotion flyers for patients at clinics and hospitals. On reading them, he learned that patients can communicate more effectively with their doctors with such information, including discussing their illnesses in greater detail.

"At that time, Vietnam did not have bookshelves stacked with easy-to-understand information beautifully presented. Vietnamese people also did not have the habit of reading books and seeking official medical information, so I immediately thought of translating the information into Vietnamese and making similar products," Quy said.

After leaving the U.S., he returned to Japan with "half a suitcase full of medical information leaflets." At the end of his doctoral degree in 2012, he started a community medicine project.

Together with friends in the medical industry, he translated, compiled and edited over 3,000 articles from reputable foreign websites, divided into many specialties such as internal, external, obstetrics, pediatrics, and recently with cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

"Everything was aimed at raising public awareness about health," Quy said.

He said he believes that helping people have basic medical knowledge and a proper understanding of the disease will help them better understand and go through their treatment process.

Not stopping at knowledge-sharing projects, Quy also organizes other activities to support Vietnamese community in Japan. From March 2018, he has prevailed on the Kyoto Min-iren Chuo Hospital to organize priority visits for Vietnamese people every Friday afternoon, ensuring "no language barriers with serious consequences."

Each Friday afternoon, Quy receives about three to four patients. Vietnamese patients go directly to the hospital or visit Quy's personal page to make an appointment. The lack of Vietnamese-speaking staff means that he has to handle everything from reception to taking care and providing medicines to the patients.

Avoiding mishaps

Thanks to this priority arrangement, many Vietnamese in Japan have avoided unwanted mishaps.

"A health certificate is required when applying for a job, but some Vietnamese still don't know how to do it."

A portrait photo of Quy. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Doctor Pham Nguyen Quy. Photo courtesy of Quy.

Quy recalled the instance of a Vietnamese intern who’d just arrived in Japan with symptoms of anorexia and went to more than 10 hospitals and had a series of tests (endoscopy, CT, ultrasound, blood test) done, but a correct diagnosis escaped her. After asking for a detailed medical history and reviewing the tests, he determined the patient's problem as caused by the stress of working in a new environment.

"There are diseases where a detailed history can help pinpoint the cause by as much as 80 percent. Mental counseling and socio-emotional interventions can also help. If the doctor does not do this carefully, the patient can potentially be pushed into an endless circle of testing."

In order to help alleviate concerns among the Vietnamese community in Japan about the Covid-19 pandemic, Quy and the Vietnamese Association in Japan and nearly 50 Vietnamese nurses across the country established last May a consultation channel to answer questions on the virus and where to get an infection treated.

"Most of the cases are far away, so the nursing team and I support them with translation and online communication, helping them find the right hospital," Quy said. Thanks to this initiative, nearly 500 cases have been screened. Five tested positive and received timely support.

Doctor Nguyen Quoc Thuc Phuong from the University of Rochester Medical Center, New York, said: " Quy's work shows how much love he has for Vietnamese community abroad. Although we have not had the opportunity to meet, his works provide a great example for me on how to contribute to the remote community."

Doctor Nguyen Huu Chau Duc, co-founder of the community medicine project, said that since his early days in Japan, Quy has been involved in many academic pursuits including sharing his medical knowledge with the Vietnamese community. He has also propagated Vietnamese culture through cooking and other social activities with Japanese people.

Quy said that amid his hectic life, working in the hospital and on community projects, "there are times when I am tired" but "the joy and the results of the patients keep me motivated."

The Vietnamese doctor said that in the near future, he wished to build a system of remote examination support for the Vietnamese community in Japan so that people with language limitations can still see a doctor at the right time. "My dream is to provide medical support to Vietnamese people living and working in Japan"

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