Q&A with Wing Ip, DPM

This year's mission to Vietnam was Dr. Wing Ip's second with International Extremity Project. As a returning member of the medical team, she had valuable experience from her the 2013 mission. (On a project like this, "valuable experience" translates to "more responsibility.") In addition to evaluating patients for surgery, performing surgeries, and following up with post-surgical patients, she managed the daily surgical schedule and helped to mentor the surgical residents on the team.

Drs. Spanko and Ip work in surgery with
one of the Can Tho Central General
Hospital's orthopedic team members.

Why is participating in a mission like this important to you? People have different ways of giving back to the community, either locally or globally. Some people donate to charities. Others donate their time through volunteerism. But for me, I want to give back by sharing the skills that I have obtained through residency and medical school.

IEP is especially important to me as we all have to work as a team regardless of our roles. No amount of hubris can treat our patients, who have extremely complicated deformities. If anything, this mission demands humility as we need to understand our patients needs in order to provide them with the best care.

How has participating in missions with IEP affected your life/world view?
I feel like being part of IEP challenges me to become a better person, to understand that life extends beyond my little world in the California Central Valley, and to know that I am so lucky to be able to give back to others.

What do you gain personally by participating? There is no doubt that I gain more than I receive. I learn to be a better clinician and a better surgeon. I get the honor and pleasure to work and learn with the best surgeons, who consistently return to Vietnam to treat patients. I get to see the collaborative efforts as senior doctors like Dr. Lehnert, Dr. Spanko, and Dr. Nyska brainstorm to identify what would be the best procedure for a particular patient. Deciding on the best care for complicated cases cannot always be dependent on an individual surgeon. Ultimately, I get the satisfaction of knowing that I participated in a mission that improves the quality of life for our patients.

What is the most difficult part of being in a medical mission? There is a flood of mixed emotions when participating in a medical mission, both of joy and sadness. The most heartbreaking is that some of our patients travel hundreds of miles to see us and then find out that we cannot treat them. For these patients, their deformities are so severe that no amount of surgery can help them. Unfortunately that is the reality of the situation. 

However, there is a certain amount of strength that is needed to overcome this emotional obstacle as there are still lines of people who need to be treated and can be helped. And with those patients it brings a lot of joy and hope because these are truly life-changing surgeries.

What inspired you the most on this second trip? The acts of humanity seen at the hospital is what inspires me the most. We have patients who come alone because it is too expensive to travel and bring family or friends with them during the recovery period. However, family members of other patients offer assistance and food to the patients who are there alone.

Dr. Ip (right) with a patient and her family.
The hospital doesn’t sell crutches small enough for children. I saw a father carrying his daughter on his back after her surgery so that she could be seen for her follow-up appointments. Even with limited supplies, our patients and their families find ways to face the challenges of recovery. These are the sacrifices that they make as the family unit is of utmost importance.

In Vietnam, the temperature is hot and humid and our patients are more acclimated to the heat. It's a stark contrast in the operating room, which is cold and frigid for the surgeons, who have to work under the hot operating lights. Fortunately, we brought blankets donated by Rocket Fuel and covered our patients while they were in surgery. I had one patient who refused to take the blanket and told me that he could handle the cold. He explained that he wanted to save it for another patient, thinking that there weren't enough blankets for everyone. I assured him that we had enough blankets. He finally relented and kindly accepted.

These are the moments that the Vietnamese people share with me that I hold so dear to my heart. And these are the moments that help me realize that there is still so much goodness in the world.