After graduating from USC, Michael Pham, MPH ’15, traded the urban Los Angeles jungle for lush South East Asia, where he spent two weeks training Cambodian officials in emergency response practices.
Pham, a paramedic, hoped to help standardize pre-hospital emergency care in the country, which lacks medical service infrastructure and emergency transport. As of 2012, Cambodia had 0.17 physicians and 0.7 hospital beds for every thousand people, according to the CIA World Factbook.
“With simple emergency response skills like resuscitation, rescue breathing and first-aid, anyone can save a life,” said Pham. “And in places where you can’t get medical help, trained first responders can prevent thousands of deaths and injuries.”
After almost a year of preparation, Pham and his team arrived in Cambodia and began assessing needs, touring facilities and shadowing medical professionals to better understand the health system. They trained government guards and police officials with a U.S. first responder course designed for the population and introduced U.S. guidelines and evidence-based medical protocol from the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians and American Health Association to the Cambodian health care system.
By the end of their trip they certified more than 80 first responders and provided free health services to approximately 300 villagers. Pham’s work was formally recognized by the Cambodian government and covered by the local media.
Looking back, Pham recounted his favorite memories, including meeting Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister, experiencing the bustling night market and watching the sun set over Cambodia’s ancient and iconic Angkor Wat temple.
“The feeling of bliss and enlightenment and joy that came from completing our work and making a positive impact is indescribable,” he said.
He will return in December to follow up on the project and again this summer to begin a new program with the Ministry of Health.
Pham credits his success in Cambodia in part to his education and faculty mentorship at USC.
With the flexibility to attend online webinars and class discussions, “I feel that I was able to succeed and learn as much as a full-time student on campus,” he said.
His professors in the Department of Preventive Medicine and USC Institute for Global Health provided him connections and access he needed to bring the project to fruition in Cambodia, he said.
“My mentors made the right introductions, and from there I built a program from the bottom up and implemented it with my own U.S.-based team in partnership with the officials and health personnel of Cambodia.”
In leadership, management and program design courses, Pham had learned to conduct needs assessment, collect data, evaluate effectiveness and ensure sustainability.
“I was able to use my skills to organize health personnel, create an action plan and lead my team in achieving our goals,” he said.