Initial placement thought: as far away from Scotland as possible!
When I started to think about where I wanted to go on placement, I wasn’t initially sure what area of work I wanted to pursue but I was sure I wanted to go as far away from Scotland as possible. Fast forward a year and I think 6377 miles is far enough!
After an OPTIMA course in ethics and regulations sparked my interest in clinical trials, I was becoming more certain I wanted to learn about the clinical trials process during my placement. When I heard about a placement at OUCRU a clinical trials unit based in Vietnam, I knew this would be perfect!
Moving to Vietnam was a little daunting and even once flights, visas and accommodation were sorted, I still did not really feel like I was going. However, once I landed in Ho Chi Minh City after 18 hours of travelling, the mad 40-minute drive to my apartment soon let it sink in that I was finally here!
New to OUCRU
I had just one day to adjust to my new surroundings, a new time zone and, perhaps the hardest of all, the tropical climate. As the next day, I was due to start in Oxford University Clinical Research Unit otherwise known as OUCRU.
OUCRU was established in 1991 in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Since then it has become a large-scale clinical and public research unit. Based at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases (Bệnh viện Bệnh nhiệt đới) in HCMC, their research focuses on the most significant infectious diseases in Vietnam. I would be working in the clinical trials unit (CTU) which is responsible for the governance and operations of all the research at OUCRU in Vietnam and internationally. Since it was established, the CTU has grown to have the expertise and capacity to deliver high quality clinical research, now managing more than 75 studies at any one time!
My first day I met a lot of people working in the CTU and I soon has a desk and a stack of SOPs and background reading to keep me busy. During my first few weeks, I arranged meetings with the team leaders of the different groups within the CTU. These teams are pharmacy, data management, ethics and regulations, contracts, monitoring, study coordination and social science. It was not long before I had a good understanding of the clinical trials process and I was ready to start my internship projects. While I am here will be following an active hepatitis C trial and working on a project involving participant trial reimbursement.
Day to day work life in Vietnam didn’t take long to get used to. In the office, it seems overall quite laid back and OUCRU certainly has a strong community feel. My first week at OUCRU there was multiple event taking place that all provided amazing tea break food. I was told not to get used to this but I have to say most days there is some food on offer in the office and I could get used to the regular fruit platters
The daily commute
My usual transport to work soon became the ‘Grab’ ride (the Asian Uber) as it was definitely too hot to walk. It took me a week or so to build up the courage to move from the comfortable air-conditioned taxi cars to the ruthlessly driven motorbike taxis. However, once I did I had a thrilling 10 minute whizz through the traffic of Ho Chi Minh to get to the Hospital for Tropical Disease where I worked (I just made sure not to mention this to my mum)! At first, the traffic here seems to lack any sort of order but once you have travelled in it for a while; you start to learn the road etiquette. A horn here does not just symbolise annoyance but is simply an ‘I am here’ signal and apparently this must be used constantly at every overtake, junction or when it has been quiet for a little too long! There is also no give way, if you’re turning across oncoming traffic you can just go for it, just do it at a speed that means everyone can weave around each other. Either that or if you jump the light you can speed across the junction before anyone else has a chance!
Getting home after a busy day
For my evening commute, I normally brave the 30 - 35°C heat and walk the 30 minutes home. As the Vietnamese do not walk anywhere, they think you are very strange if you do! Usually on my sweaty walks home I am asked multiple times if I want a ride home by motorbike taxi. I also spend the whole duration jumping on and off the pavement, mostly to avoid motorbikes as they mount the pavement to park or skip traffic lights. Another challenge is the busy junctions I need to cross in rush hour traffic. Here a green man does not necessarily mean a break in the traffic, so you need to quickly re-learn how to cross a road. There is no point waiting for a gap, as one might never come. The tactic is to just cross, keep a constant speed and the bikes SHOULD weave around you. I genuinely think if you put on a blind fold and slowly walked across the road here you would live to tell the tale (not that I am willing to try anytime soon)!
Even though things are so different here, it is amazing how quickly you can adjust to Vietnamese life. There is so much to do and see three months almost doesn’t seem long enough. Now I have passed the halfway point, I am starting to feel like the adjustment back to ‘normal’ life in Scotland will be harder!
Cảm ơn bạn!