When I retired as a radiologist a couple of years ago, I looked for a way to volunteer in my medical specialty. As nothing was available domestically I found an opportunity in Cambodia, working at the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope, the only free care hospital in Phnom Pen, the capital of the country, which serves as a training center for physicians.
At the end of the devastating regime of Pol Pot in 1979 there were fewer than 20 doctors left in the country, which is now continuing to develop its medical infrastructure, in a region rife with poverty, disease, and corruption.
The hospital is an acute care facility for very ill people. There is also outpatient evaluation for discharged patients and the general public, who pay on a sliding scale dependent on income. There is a radiology department with a full-time director and other part-time employees. Most radiology interpretation in the country is performed by physicians with minimal or no training in the field.
I had little idea of what I would encounter before I arrived, but was told they most need education. I spent a couple of months gathering online resources I could present, not knowing who my audience would actually be. I gave a daily lecture to about 15 people, including radiologists, technologists, and trainees, as well as secretaries and maintenance staff. English is the language used in the hospital, and is a requirement for employment.
I sat beside doctor trainees, some of whom wanted to become radiologists, and others to get basic training. I found them bright and enthusiastic, with a very good grasp of basic medicine, but short on practical application. I asked one physician specialist in ultrasound what she learned most from me, and she said she liked the way I dictated reports, where nuance of certainty, logical discussion of possible diagnoses, and recommendations were presented, rather than a simple description of findings.
I was there for five weeks, and was in much demand, coming home exhausted at day’s end. I had little or no experience with most of the conditions I saw, and follow up was not possible. Thankfully there was Internet access, although slow. Textbooks were almost nonexistent. The kindness and patience of the staff was inspiring. Maybe this was a function of the Buddhist culture.
It was especially rewarding that my wife could join me, where she worked to help organize the medical library. I treasure this experience, being able to embed in a foreign culture in a way that tourism would not allow, as well as using my expertise in a meaningful way.