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Thursday June 03, 2010

Children of the evolution

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Take an overcrowded hospital in Vietnam, a group of dedicated RMIT students and staff on both sides of the equator, mix them together and what do you get? New friends and a long-term partnership that will make a difference to the lives of Vietnamese families.

It’s well known among educators that the most effective learning comes through real-life experience.

All RMIT degrees include work-integrated learning (WIL). Now, the WIL program is taking on a more global flavour, as the University’s Melbourne and Vietnam campuses join forces to bring about change in health care and social services.

In 2009, RMIT students and supervising staff began working with the paediatric department of Da Nang General Hospital in central Vietnam. Da Nang is the country’s fourth largest city, with about 800,000 people.

"Like many hospital departments in developing nations, the paediatric ward is overcrowded and under-resourced,” says Dr Julie Roberts, WIL Vietnam project leader.

During the first project, a multi-disciplinary team of students produced a comprehensive plan for the ward, addressing issues including infection control, ventilation and cooling, and patient management.

Then came a pleasant surprise. "The City of Da Nang decided to create a new women’s and children’s hospital in an 11-storey building," says Roberts.

"The Da Nang paediatric staff were so pleased with the calibre of our students’ work during the first project that they asked us to redesign the new building in its entirety."

Designing a hospital is a huge undertaking, but according to Roberts, the students approached it like seasoned professionals.

After extensive liaison with the hospital, local city council and businesses, RMIT project team representatives presented the final plans in March.

RMIT and Da Nang recently signed a memorandum of understanding. Discussion is underway about potential projects after the hospital moves into the new building, such as an efficiency audit of the new facilities and development of outreach services for children in remote districts.

The WIL program has spawned other projects, including working with the 1,000-bed No. 1 Children’s Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City to develop information brochures for parents and redesign the hospital playground. Next, Roberts hopes to help the hospital formalise parent support groups.

To be considered for the Vietnam projects, students must submit an application and attend an interview.

"We don’t base selection decisions merely on academic results," says Roberts. "Students will be working on real-life projects, so we’re more interested in attributes like independence and ability to work in a team."

The onsite component of each project runs for two weeks, but takes months to plan. Students must research the subject thoroughly, develop a project plan for scrutiny by staff supervisors, and undertake cultural awareness and teamwork training.

Bachelor of Communications student Meg Gallagher was part of the team that developed brochures for No. 1 Children’s Hospital.

"I felt lucky to contribute to a project that’s really worthwhile," she says, "and it was a great opportunity to work with people from another culture."

Gallagher returned to Australia feeling more confident and independent. "I couldn’t have had an experience like it anywhere else."

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Source: RMIT University http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=eiq881w57awl;STATUS=A

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