Northwick Park Hospital maxillofacial surgeon, Mike Perry, embarked on an extraordinary overseas adventure to Vietnam, with a 14-hour flight that landed him in the capital city of Hanoi. Unlike a typical tourist, Mike didn’t have time for sightseeing as he headed straight to Vietnam’s largest public hospital after dropping off his bags.
Mike Perry, a 58-year-old veteran in the field of facial reconstruction, specialises in treating facial trauma cases. Upon his arrival at the clinic, word quickly spread, and patients flocked to seek his expertise. Recounting his experience, Mike stated, “We didn’t finish seeing patients until late that evening, and my feet didn’t touch the ground after that.”
During his two-week visit, Mike spent the majority of his time in the operating theater, working alongside his Vietnamese counterparts. He shared, “I am considering retirement now and thought it was now or never to make the trip. Vietnamese surgeons have been coming to Northwick Park for several years to learn more about how we organize and manage caseloads and kept asking us to visit.”
Comparing the medical workload in Vietnam to the UK, Mike highlighted the stark contrast. He stated, “Their surgeons are as skilled as us, but their caseload is extraordinary.” At the Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi, where he spent a significant portion of his time, there are 50 operating theaters, with plastic and maxillofacial teams conducting complex procedures every day, including 10-15 major facial trauma admissions. In contrast, Northwick Park in the UK sees one or two of these cases a week and is among the busiest maxillofacial units in the UK for trauma cases.
Mike also lent his expertise to the Hong Ngoc and Military hospitals, which also handle trauma cases and other pathologies. He noted, “The moped is the main mode of transport in Vietnam, and they have a lot of road traffic accidents, so it keeps the surgical teams busy. They don’t have the luxury of time or privacy, and patients are lined up on trolleys waiting to go into surgery. It may not be pretty, but it is very efficient.”
One aspect that slightly disappointed Mike was that he didn’t get to experience a common challenge faced by his Vietnamese colleagues: a shortage of screws and plates to hold bones together. He expressed, “I would have enjoyed the challenge of trying to problem-solve these complex cases with limited resources. It is a different world compared to the NHS. Surgery can become routine over time, so I like a challenge where you have to come up with a creative solution.”
When asked if he plans to return to Vietnam in the future, Mike Perry responded positively, saying, “I hope so. It’s important we train and pass on our knowledge to the next generation. If we don’t, there is no one to follow us. It’s also a fantastic learning experience for our trainees from Northwick Park if they get the opportunity to go there. We always assume that the West is training the East, but we have a lot to learn from our colleagues in terms of being more efficient and effective with the resources available.”