REI-Vietnam News

Nursing Program Growing

by Lily Lauer |

Image: Nursing Program Growing
Attendees of the 2013 Patient Safety Seminar in Hanoi

REI’s assistance to Nursing Education programs in Vietnam is experiencing tremendous vitality. Kathy Cowie, an RN who specializes in wound care, was the first REI-Vietnam nurse to impact the profession during the two years she lived in Hanoi working in an intensive care unit (1997-99). Since then, she has returned to Vietnam regularly to continue sharing her skills. (Read more about Kathy’s experiences here: ). This Fall Kathie developed and taught a comprehensive curriculum for intensive care nurses in one Hanoi hospital. The continuity of her relationship with the leadership and staff at this hospital is leading to some significant patient care changes.

Kathy Cowie

It wasn’t until 2008 that a team solely dedicated to nursing education traveled to Vietnam. The team was led by Elaine Goehner, PhD, RN, CPHQ, who continues to lead the program. Elaine is dedicated and capable, and possesses one of the most important attributes of a successful nursing professional: a heart of compassion. She also has a passion to see the nursing profession in Vietnam elevated to a position of honor and respect.

The first team of nurses to visit Vietnam was there to listen, observe and ascertain what concerns their Vietnamese counterparts wished to have addressed. Both the Vietnamese government and hospital administrators expressed a desire to improve the manner in which nurses are educated.


Over the past five years, nursing teams have returned to Vietnam to conduct lectures and demonstrate the practical application of lecture topics. Each team takes nurses on morning teaching rounds. Coordination and communication between doctors and nurses is facilitated by the doctor’s participation during rounds as well. The doctors are continually surprised and appreciative of the knowledge that the REI-VN nursing team displays and the questions they are able to answer concerning physiology and drug management. Afternoons are spent lecturing to students, staff and leadership.


REI-Vietnam’s nursing teams don’t just demonstrate the practical aspects of the nursing profession. They have modeled how to care for patients and offer compassion. Cheryl Kimball and Lily Pang, for example, demonstrated how to improve delivery room care for newborns and for post-partum moms. During rounds Cheryl would take pictures of moms and babies and email the photos to the parents.

There was one mother who didn’t have a baby. Cheryl thought that the baby was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), so she asked the mother about the baby’s whereabouts and was told that the baby had died. Cheryl immediately put her arms around the mom and they wept together.

Lily Pang worked at Phu San and Bach Mai hospitals to offer assistance with the mother/baby program there. This excerpt from an email sent by an anesthesiologist who worked with these ladies says it all:

“Dear my crazy Kimball and my beloved Lily, I don't know how to express my sincere thanks to all of you, REI, for your great support for us - Phu San Ha Noi. No words can show how awesome you are. All of you let me know: life is not only the trips, but also the sharing and caring during the trips. During the trip in Vietnam 2013, you gave us knowledge, skills, different observing and different thinking... And the small things will make a big difference. Step by step, we'll try to change and improve following your suggestions.”


One of the biggest strengths of the REI-Vietnam nursing program is that the same people return to Vietnam repeatedly, which allows relationships to develop over time. The Vietnamese medical personnel know that our nurses aren’t paid for training them, and that--more often than not--pay for the trip themselves. This speaks volumes.

Last year, Elaine was asked to assist in the development of a master’s level program at Pham Ngoc Thach University (PNTU) of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City. During her trip this Fall, Elaine signed a memorandum of understanding with the school of nursing at PNTU. They currently have a bachelor’s program and want to develop a master’s program that focuses on educating nurse educators. Their government understands and supports the need to enable the development of nurse educators. PNTU won’t be ready to offer a masters degree program for another two to three years. In the interim, Azusa Pacific University (APU) in California, the university where Elaine is a professor of nursing, is considering how to send faculty to Vietnam to teach the masters curriculum to PNTU faculty members. Also, as part of their international program, APU will bring one master’s student and one PhD student from Vietnam to their campus over the next two years. Those students will work with the international office at Azusa Pacific University to make sure they are competent in English, and to get the support they need to earn their master’s or PhD degrees.


Nursing is not an esteemed occupation in Vietnam. At the conclusion of the aforementioned safety conference, Elaine shared that she has a dream that someday nursing will be highly respected in Vietnam. It breaks her heart when she “senses nurses aren’t respected as they should be.” Elaine shared with the crowd that she hopes that Vietnamese nurses will receive the same level of respect as nurses receive in the US. At this point, Elaine was overcome with emotion. After her closing remarks, several people came up and hugged her, and a young man actually asked to meet with her to find out why she became emotional. Elaine explained that she “feels honored to be a nurse and to be with people in difficult circumstances.” When she reaches out with her head to think and assess, and care with her hands, she’s caring with her heart as well. “A complete nurse cares with her head, heart and hands.” The demonstration of these attributes by the REI-Vietnam nursing team is certainly influencing growth in this direction.

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