While summer break was taking place, Tullahoma High School junior Caroline McCullough was continuing her education with an overseas trip to Hue, Vietnam.
In what she called an “amazing” experience, Caroline traveled in late June to be a part of the two-week FutureDocs Abroad program, making rounds with doctors at Vietnam hospitals, while also getting a hands-on experience.
“Just going out to another country and seeing how they live and how they do their everyday life was a big eye-opener,” Caroline said. “I learned that we take a lot for granted in the U.S., cars and outside temperature, for example. We walked everywhere, and the people there drove motorbikes with kids and groceries whether it was rain or shine. The outside temperature never got below 102 and the highest was 130 with 100 percent humidity.”
From Boston to Da Nang
During her freshman year in 2017, Caroline received a letter from The National Leadership Academies inviting her to the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists conference in Boston. During that two-and-a-half day event, several doctors and deans of colleges spoke to an arena full of student, and on the final day, they mentioned the FutureDocs Abroad program, an all-access medical internship program created by the National Leadership Academies in which students observe surgery, work in an anatomy lab and shadow physicians in over a dozen areas of specialty. Caroline knew right then she wanted to be a part of it.
So this year, on June 21, Caroline’s family traveled with her to Atlanta, where they dropped her off for a flight to New York City. There, she would meet the rest of the FutureDocs Aboard participants.
From there, her trip included 30 hours of travel time, with stops in Frankfurt, Germany and Singapore. Caroline and her group landed in Da Nang, Vietnam, June 23.
After getting through customs and picking up luggage, the students still weren’t finished traveling. They would next board a bus for a nearly three-hour trip to the host university. Though they were tired and met immediately with a heat wave, Caroline said the view on the bus ride to Hue was something to behold.
“We left the airport and our bus ride was on the coast and it was the most beautiful sight I have experienced,” she said. “There was bright blue water, tons of mountains, fishing boats, kids playing in the water and hammocks, just to name a few sights. To get to Hue, we had to go through several mountains and cities, so we saw a lot of the culture just in the few hours we had been there.”
One of the biggest adjustments for Caroline, was getting adjusted to the time difference: Vietnam is 12 hours ahead of the Central Time zone.
“It took me about three to four nights to get fully adjusted,” Caroline said. “I would sleep from 9 p.m. until midnight, then be awake from midnight to 3 a.m. I’d fall back asleep at 3 and wake up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for my day.”
The staff of Hue University staff held opening ceremonies on the morning of June 24, introducing themselves and the rotations that would take place during the two-week visit.
“Towards the end, we met our rotation group chaperones,” Caroline said. “There were six groups with two to three chaperones with each group. After that, we had a tour of the hospital and university. We saw the library where the university students would get their books and study, the classrooms, some unused patient rooms, and the map where our rotations were.”
The rotations were different each day. According to Caroline, her rotations included oncology, cardiology, trauma/orthopedics/thoracic, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, nursing, pharmacy, parasitology and otolaryngology.
On her rounds, Caroline noted how things were different than in the United States.
“The only part of the hospital that had AC was the operating room and the ICU, but it wasn’t cold. It was 85-ish degrees in there,” she said. “Also, the hospital staff wouldn’t throw away their materials they would use on patients, like we do. They would sterilize them and reuse them. In the U.S., we have one room per patient; at the Hue hospital, there would be anywhere between 8 and 24 patients in one room. The beds were like pieces of sheet metal with a cover over them.”
While making her rounds, Caroline received hands-on experience, seeing several patients each day.
“I saw patients with heart disease, got to listen to heart murmurs, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), and bradycardia (slow heartbeat), tonsillectomy’s, thyroid tumor removals, repair of a broken femur, hysterectomy, and clean the womb of a heart surgery,” she said. “A kid, 3 years old, had a stomach problem, and was about to have surgery and couldn’t eat anything and he was screaming and crying because he was hungry. This guy had an amputation of his second, third, and fourth toe and it got infected so they had to clean it out.”
Hue Traditional and Nam Dong
The group travelled to a different location on Fridays.
The first Friday Caroline was in Hue, her group went to Hue Traditional Hospital.
“They did acupuncture, cupping, massage, herbal treatments and planted their own herbs,” she said.
On the second Friday, her group traveled to the Nam Dong District in the mountains. During that trip, they would walk from the clinic to conduct a house visit at a patient’s home.
“It was a lot like a mental check-up, like seeing how they are doing, what are they doing this week, if they will be busy, if they feel fine, more like those type of things instead of them actually being sick,” Caroline said.
“Since it was a one-time thing for us, we got to know the patients and their family … what their job was, what the kids do, what grade they were in and things more about the area. After that, we toured the Nam Dong Hospital. It was very small, the size of a big restaurant in the U.S.”
Caroline said she was blessed to work during her two-week experience in Vietnam with some of the top doctors in their field, including Dr. Nguyen Van Cau, one of the top 45 oncologists in the world.
“If we didn’t understand something, he would do everything he could to make us understand it. Whether that was draw a picture, say it over and over again or put it in a translation and let us look at it,” Caroline said. “The doctors wanted us to understand and learn, and their passion for making that happen is unexplainable.”
During closing ceremonies, Caroline was awarded with the Outstanding Student Award/Representatives of the Students. According to Caroline, she received a text from the director not only telling her that she would be receiving the accolade, but also notifying her she would have to make a short speech.
“I was over-the-top excited,” she said. “I would have never imagined myself getting this. If she wouldn’t have told me about this, I would have been speechless on the stage, so I am glad she mentioned it to me so I could get my thoughts together on what I wanted to say.”
Keeping busy at home
Caroline returned home from her trip on July 7. Since then, she has stayed busy aiding the training staff at Tullahoma High School, where her father, Heath McCullough, is the head athletic trainer.
According to Caroline, her father has been instrumental in preparing her for a medical career.
“He has helped me so much and shows me that even when things get overwhelming in the medical career, you can’t be overwhelmed in a situation because then it creates more chaos. You just have to take a deep breath and go at something with a new mind,” she said.
“Every chance he gets, he teaches me when he could be doing his job at a normal rate. But, he takes his time on showing me what certain injuries are and where things are in the body and letting me help out; like, taping ankles and wrists, cleaning up turf burn that has torn open, feeling what a torn ACL feels like and the tests you do on it to see if it’s torn, and cleaning up bloody noses at wrestling matches.”
With football season just around the corner, Caroline and her father can be seen on the sidelines at each of the Wildcats’ games.
“All of that will come in handy in medical school,” she said. “The Tullahoma athletic coaches are really good about being supportive in me trying to learn all of this and help as much as they can. They make me feel like I am a part of the team just as much as the players are, because I feel like I live at the field house during the big seasons.”
And Caroline loves being around the THS athletes.
“Having the connections with the players is probably my favorite part because without that then you are limited on having a fun time and [being able to] joke around with them when you feel like they need it the most,” she said. “It has helped me a lot because I see so many different types of injuries and learn so much about the body every day; so going into school after high school with this knowledge will help so much.”