Student Connection

Scott Lawler describes a once in a lifetime experience training in Vietnam

In the months before graduation, Scott Lawler, MD, heard about AUC’s new global health electives. Here, he thought, was a chance to train in a foreign country, learn new ways to practice medicine, and become immersed in a different culture. For Lawler, it was a no brainer. He signed up immediately for a cardiology elective in Vietnam.

To prepare for the big trip, Lawler had frequent contact with Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN)—a partner institution that manages global health electives for AUC students. He was given emergency contact information, photos of point persons in Vietnam, contact information for onsite Danbury Hospital residents, and details about Cho Ray Hospital—where he would be clerking. 

“I felt very comfortable when it came time to leave,” he said. “And when I got to Vietnam there were no surprises. My first night there, several of the residents took me out and the [WCHN] program called regularly to check in.”

And while he felt prepared for the elective, the scene walking into Cho Ray Hospital was a whole different story.

As the largest general hospital in the most populated city in the country, the volume of patients was significant. Cho Ray acts as the lead hospital for 37 cities and serves a total population of 40 million. Lawler went from seeing one patient treated per room in the US to two to three people per bed and 20 beds per room in Vietnam.

“Seeing that kind of patient volume makes you appreciate the healthcare system in the United States,” he said. “But it also opened my eyes to new techniques and procedures that I’ve taken back with me. I’m a more well-rounded physician because of it.”


Lawler learned those techniques and procedures while training across the hospital’s interventional cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, and coronary care departments—opportunities he hand-selected. The supervisors at Cho Ray were eager to create an elective that would give him the experiences and instruction he was looking for. Hearing Lawler reflect on his time in Vietnam, it’s clear that they were successful.

On the floors, attendings translated various patient cases to students and residents who would collectively come up with differential diagnoses and a plan. Some were easy to determine, others were new to Lawler.

“I got to see a lot of things that I’ll probably never see in the US,” he said. “Several adult patients presented with tetralogy of fallot, which is typically treated in utero in the states. There, people don’t have the money to pay for it which leads to needing open heart surgery in their 40s and 50s. Seeing a beating heart on the surgery table for the first time is something I’ll never forget.”

In addition to open heart surgery, Lawler saw numerous high-stakes operations, including a kidney transplant. The exposure to these procedures and the fast pace environment of the hospital was motivating and gave him a new sense of confidence—something that proved valuable during the MATCHTM process.

“The experience was an incredible talking point during my residency interviews,” he said. “Completing a global elective shows initiative and willingness to step out of your comfort zone and I think a lot of residency directors saw it as a strength.”  

Just how much the Vietnam elective stood out during Lawler’s residency interview is hard to say but he did match in his first choice of Internal Medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. He began his residency earlier this month.

For Lawler, AUC’s global health offering was beneficial both personally and professionally. His advice to other students:

“If there’s a once in a lifetime opportunity knocking at your door, take it!”