Portrait of Dr. Wendy Buenzli standing in front of the hospital where she volunteered in May.
Dr. Wendy Buenzli in Vietnam in May. 

Graduate nursing education is still rare in Vietnam, with just a half-percent of nurses and midwives holding a master’s degree, according to the World Health Organization.

In 1991, three nurses from the United States proposed a volunteer network of doctorally-prepared instructors to help improve nursing education and practice in Vietnam. Their reasoning: elevating nursing education helps improve public health because nurses are the largest group of health care providers in most countries. Their Friendship Bridge Nurses Group began supplying instructors to the first nursing graduate program in Vietnam, at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City.

Dr. Wendy Buenzli, Associate Clinical Professor and newly named Director of the RN-BSN Program at the WSU College of Nursing, took part in the exchange program in May. Here are some of her thoughts on the experience:

Q: Tell us about the Friendship Bridge program.

A: Nurse educators in the United States who have a PhD partner with a Vietnamese college to develop a sustainable graduate program. In Ho Chi Minh City (with a population of 8.4 million) there are only two PhD nurses. In all of Vietnam there are only five. So in order to have sustainable education they have to use faculty from the U.S.

A group of students and the two American nursing educators who volunteered there in May.
Dr. Wendy Buenzli and students from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Q: How do you get involved?

A: I applied and was accepted. It’s a two-week experience, and you also represent your college while you’re there.

Q: What did you teach?

A: I taught community health content, in English with a translator. You’re teaching and training junior faculty while also teaching master’s-prepared courses. There were 25 students, and (she and the other volunteer, from Gonzaga University) would teach from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day with afternoons spent engaging the students in activities. I was amazed at the students’ high quality of work and at how hard they worked. They were having to learn graduate content taught in English; it made me grateful I was able to get a graduate education in my native language. They’ll graduate with master’s degrees.

Q: What else did you do while you were there?

A: We got to see a hospital – it was really eye-opening. Nurses are taking 18-30 patients, and in pre-op, there were two patients to one bed. They didn’t have any pumps so nurses were calculating drip rates (for IVs). The hospital sees 4,000 to 5,000 outpatients every day, and there are 1,200 beds housing 2,400 patients. (Editor’s note: The Vietnamese government said in a 2011 study that serious overcrowding is a problem at all hospitals in the country. The study said it’s common to have two to three patients per bed and doctors who see 60-100 patients a day).

Q: What were your take-aways?

A: There’s a dedication to nursing education. The government is looking at having the BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) as the entry to nursing practice. The university wanted a quality of nursing program that would allow graduates to be able to work anywhere in Asia.

Q: Anything else?

A: Because it was Nurses Week when I was there, I pinned the students with WSU pins I brought from home.

  • Addy Hatch, WSU College of Nursing