Virtual Mentor. May 2001, Volume 3, Number 5.
Profile of a Role Model
Bac Si My: An American Doctor in Vietnam
William W. Funderburk, one of the first U.S. physicians to volunteer during the Vietnam conflict, is honored as a role model for his two-month stint in treating casualties of war as well as training medical students and doctors in Vietnam.
In the summer of 1965, at the request of the South vietnamese authorities, a small group of American physicians arrived in Vietnam as part of a humanitarian effort to care for civilians in Southeast Asia. Twenty-five years of war and insurrection had created tremendous health burdens on the population, and, as increasing numbers of Vietnamese physicians were pressed into military service, fewer than 350 native physicians were left to care for more than 5 million Vietnamese civilians. This first small band of American physicians who arrived in 1965 represented the beginning of the Volunteers for Vietnam Program, a humanitarian initiative that, by 1967, was administered by the American Medical Association and funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Physicians volunteered for a 2-month tour of service in Vietnam during which they were paid $10 a day. From 1967-1973, a total of 774 American physicians served 1,029 tours of service in Vietnam.
His days were long and challenging - over 65 percent
of Dr. Funderburk's surgery was on patients with war-
related injuries. He stated that "the multiple war
casualties which were seen and treated were far out of proportion to anything that might be envisioned in the
US, and the types of wounds were unique" . He also treated diseases prevalent in the region such as
plague, typhoid, malaria, cholera, and hookworm
In addition to caring for patients, Dr. Funderburk served as an advisor to several interns who rotated through the hospital at Danang from the medical schools in Saigon and Hue. The students spent 2 months at the hospital in surgical training under the direct supervision of Dr. Funderburk and two senior Vietnamese physicians.
Dr. Funderburk continued his mentoring role when he returned to the US, sponsoring 3 young Vietnamese interns to visit the United States for further medical training.
Upon his return from life as a Bac Si My (American doctor) in Vietnam just before Christmas of 1967, Dr. Funderburk commented that although he witnessed much suffering in Danang, he "wouldn't change those 2 months for any 2 months I've spent in medicine and surgery" .
For his commitment to the professional ideal of patient care wherever the need and regardless of the language, political, and cultural barriers,
his willingness to subject himself to danger and inconvenience to bring comfort to the sick and wounded, and his role as mentor and advisor to young students, we are proud to name Dr. William W. Funderburk a role model in medicine.
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