Helping hands: Doctors lead hand surgery workshop in Vietnam

Two University of Michigan surgeons traveled recently to Vietnam to help train local doctors specialized hand reconstruction techniques. UM Chief of Hand Surgery Kevin Chung and Hand Surgery Fellow Matthew Brown spent four days in the city of Huế over the summer, working with dozens of surgeons from across Vietnam.

Hand Surgery Fellow Matthew Brown leads Vietnamese surgeons in a recent workshop.

“I had done some international trips, but nothing at all like this. It was quite a shock to perform surgery with 30 or 40 people watching,” said Brown, MD, who joined UMHS in 2015. “I’ve never seen a group of physicians more interested. Every operating room we worked in was packed and afterward they asked great questions.”

Held in early July, the four-day trip was organized through ReSurge, a non-profit that aims to boost surgical capacity and capabilities in developing countries. Dr. Chung has worked with ReSurge for more than a decade and has hosted similar workshops in many countries including Ghana, Ecuador, Honduras, Nepal, Cambodia and others.

“For me, working with ReSurge is about service and engagement. For trainees and fellows like Dr. Brown, these experiences provide critical educational opportunities and exposure to health care in developing countries,” said Dr. Chung. “Given how productive this meeting was, ReSurge has already expressed an interest in us returning to Vietnam and we are tentatively slated to visit Ho Chi Minh City next year.”

This year’s destination, Huế, a city of about 350,000 in central Vietnam, is home to the country’s third-largest hospital system, Huế Central Hospital, as well as one of Vietnam’s largest medical colleges.

Nearly 40 Vietnamese surgeons from across the country attended to learn advanced techniques from Chung and Brown, who performed surgeries each morning and led follow-up workshops in the afternoons. The focus was primarily on correcting congenital hand disorders like fused fingers or thumb hypoplasia, in which the thumb is underdeveloped or sometimes absent entirely. The physicians saw and treated a lot of children, Brown said.

“All of the patients and their families were very grateful. You feel gratified as always for helping them, but even more important is that we helped educate a group of doctors,” Brown said. “Even though it is one of the largest hospital systems in the country, they don’t have anyone specialized in pediatric hand surgery. This was an opportunity to pass on some technical skills so they can better perform the procedures and hopefully teach others to do them as well.”