Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II: Helping Patients Recover Is My Endless Joy

With over two decades of dedication to FV, Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II, has become a prominent figure in the field of surgery. He acknowledges that his expertise is the result of relentless hard work and perseverance.

As one of the first Vietnamese doctors to work at FV Hospital and the first Vietnamese Head of the General Surgery Department, Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II, has dedicated 21 years of his life to inheriting and advancing the legacy of French department heads, laying the foundation for a new generation of skilled, compassionate FV doctors.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” to view the world’s medical landscape.

His passion for helping people by wielding a surgical scalpel was nurtured early in the heart of young Phan Van Thai, as he shadowed his father as he worked in a small village in Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen, administering injections and dressing wounds for the local community. Growing up, his love for the medical field only intensified, seemingly inherited through generations of his family’s bloodline.

Graduating from high school with a strong foundation in French, Dr Phan Van Thai decided to enroll in Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy. After graduating with distinction in 1998, he continued into the residency training program. Unlike general practitioners who often take about a decade to learn the basic techniques, Dr Thai completed his training in just three years, earning his Specialist Degree.

“During my three-year residency in the hospital environment, though the journey was arduous beyond measure, looking back, I silently thank my mentors who dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to forging a generation of skilled and proficient doctors,” shared Dr Thai.

My decision to join FV was based on both infrastructure and superstructure factors. In particular, the superstructure refers to a culture of equity.

Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II, Head of General Surgery.

The biggest turning point in his career occurred in 2003 when the doctor moved to Ho Chi Minh City to live and work. “Having deeply absorbed the French medical education philosophy and being fluent in French, I chose to apply to FV. FV had received French investment and was very modern. At that time, it was the only hospital in the South where French was spoken alongside Vietnamese and English,” the doctor reminisced.

Upon joining the General Surgery Department at FV Hospital, Dr Thai spent months studying alongside and learning from French department heads, who profoundly influenced his lifelong educational philosophy, standards, and fairness.

“Each generation of French doctors at FV imparts valuable lessons to the young doctors. They not only teach expertise but also refine our approach to patient examination, communication, and most importantly, lifelong learning,” added Dr Thai.

What resonates deeply with Dr Thai and has kept him anchored as department head for over two decades at FV is the culture of equity — a legacy upheld and passed down by French department heads.

From Dr Thai’s perspective, at FV Hospital, all staff members are respected and treated fairly, with every effort recognised and appreciated, no matter how small. Another cherished cultural aspect for Dr Thai is his commitment to fostering a culture of transparency, listening, and a readiness to admit mistakes, which serves as guiding principles in leading the FV team towards daily improvement.

Over the course of 21 years, Dr Thai has been a pioneering figure who, alongside French doctors, has contributed to establishing the General Surgery Department from its early days at FV Hospital. He has also become the one chosen to lead as the Head of General Surgery since 2018.

“Unlike the early days when most key positions at FV were held by foreign doctors, today the majority of department heads and deputies across most specialties are Vietnamese doctors. I believe this speaks to how French experts have successfully transferred their expertise, skills, and dedication to the next generation of Vietnamese doctors. From another perspective, it’s also recognition of the talent and efforts of our current generation of Vietnamese doctors — especially given the challenges in accessing advanced medical technologies and equipment in Vietnam. We are fortunate to have stood on the shoulders of giants to mature and gain insights into the global medical field,” affirmed Dr Thai.

The journey of inheriting and building upon the “legacy” of previous generations

Throughout the years of passionate learning and dedication alongside respected mentors and seniors, Dr Thai holds deep admiration for department head Pierre Joseph Dumas. In his memories, Dr Thai associates Dr Dumas with a visionary perspective and an unwavering spirit of continuous learning.

“Back then, there was no Internet, and medical literature was very scarce. However, at FV, Dr Pierre Joseph Dumas created conditions for us to access the latest medical research worldwide. From theoretical knowledge, we were guided to practical applications using state-of-the-art infrastructure and the most advanced, comprehensive medical equipment,” Dr Thai recounted.

Over two decades of development, the General Surgery Department has become one of the leading specialties at FV Hospital, gathering a team of dedicated and highly skilled doctors.

Thanks to continuous updates in medical advancements and the application of new techniques, doctors can accurately diagnose and effectively treat various surgical conditions in general surgery, including those affecting the digestive system (intestines, liver, colon, pancreas, gallbladder, stomach, and thyroid). These treatments address conditions such as infections, obstructions, and even cancers. Over the years, the General Surgery Department has successfully treated many patients with conditions like gastric cancer, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, and gallbladder cancer.

“At FV, cancer treatment modalities are highly specialised. Through multidisciplinary tumour boards, doctors develop personalised treatment protocols.”

Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II, Head of General Surgery Department, FV Hospital.

“One of the techniques I want to highlight is the treatment of low rectal cancer, close to the anus. Previously, most patients with this condition underwent permanent colostomy and abdominal-perineal resection. Now we use precise tumour mapping techniques, employ preoperative radiotherapy, and perform meticulous surgical techniques to treat each individual case. This approach adheres to cancer treatment principles while preserving natural excretory function, ensuring a better quality of life for the patient, post-recovery,” shared Dr Phan Van Thai.

For cancer patients, treatment involves multidisciplinary approaches, combining various surgical methods, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy. However, deciding which “weapon” to use first, determining dosage levels, and applying treatment stages, constitute a strategic treatment plan that requires investment in time, knowledge, and dedication. As a multidisciplinary hospital, at FV, cancer treatment modalities are deeply specialised. The Hospital’s leading team of specialists collaborates in tumour boards to devise personalised treatment protocols, contributing to enhancing the success rate in cancer treatment.

FV is also pioneering the implementation of sleeve gastrectomy, when the stretched portion of the stomach is removed vertically by surgeons, reducing the stomach to a tube-like shape. As a result, the patient’s capacity to consume food decreases, helping to reduce calorie intake. The surgery also removes the part of the stomach that contains Ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger, reducing appetite but preserving the sense of taste.

Over the past few years, FV has performed dozens of sleeve gastrectomy surgeries for obese patients. After 12 months post-surgery, the average patient’s BMI (Body Mass Index) decreased from 37.5 before surgery to 25; the average weight loss was 35 kg, achieving an 83 per cent reduction in excess body fat and helping eliminate accompanying comorbidities.

In addition to the medical expertise of the physicians and state-of-the-art treatment equipment, post-operative care procedures and infection control are also prioritised at FV.

Among these, Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) stands out as one of the prominent techniques.

“Under the support of French experts, FV Hospital is one of the pioneers in implementing the ERAS method in Vietnam.”

Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II, Head of General Surgery Department, FV Hospital

ERAS comprises a set of care protocols involving various methods for patients before, during, and after surgery, recognised as a significant advancement at FV. “In fact, ERAS is a relatively new method that has standardized procedures and gained scientific recognition in recent years. For a long time, certain aspects of ERAS have been routinely applied in patient care and treatment at FV,” explained Dr. Phan Van Thai. “When I first returned to the General Surgery Department and witnessed Dr Pierre Joseph Dumas giving yogurt to a patient shortly after surgery and helped him to sit up, I was quite perplexed. Under Dr Pierre’s guidance, we adopted an advanced technique that only became standardised and widespread two decades later,” Dr Thai analysed.

“Behind our team’s relentless efforts”

Time spent alongside respected mentors at FV Hospital is an invaluable memory that Dr. Phan Van Thai cherishes deeply. This is also the “legacy” he meticulously preserves to pass on to the younger generation of physicians in the General Surgery Department.

A department head serves as a role model for young doctors: their talent and moral integrity must inspire the next generation.

“The admiration and affection I have for my senior colleague stem from his outstanding surgical skills, high ethical standards, expert judgment, dedication to lifelong learning, and openness to new ideas. For me, it’s both a learning opportunity and a challenge. Over the five years of working together, I’ve had to exert a great deal of effort to keep up with him!” shared Dr Tran Xuan Tiem, General Surgery Department, FV Hospital.

Dr Thai is not only a shining example for young doctors but also a leader who is approachable and friendly to the nursing team ar the General Surgery Department. Speaking about Dr Thai, Nurse Tran Thi Minh Hieu couldn’t hide her fondness. Whenever faced with difficulties in patient care, she proactively seeks advice from Dr Thai. His clear guidance and patience provide her with the support needed to wholeheartedly care for patients, helping them recover quickly to reunite with their families.

Having spent more than two decades dedicated to FV Hospital, Dr Phan Van Thai has become a prominent figure in the field of general surgery. He acknowledges that his current prowess is the result of relentless training and dedication. For him, skilled hands, strong nerves, organisational acumen and a sharp programming mind — derived from keen observation and decision-making ability in the operating room — are just a fraction of what defines a proficient surgeon in the field of general surgery. The one wielding the scalpel requires perseverance and a willingness to face life-and-death situations in their profession.

“To fulfill my duty completely, a physician needs a solid support system. Additional to my demanding work schedule, I’m on call for emergency cases that can occur day and night and sometimes cause me to miss family gatherings.  I’m fortunate to have dedicated colleagues who understand the sacrifices we must make together,” expressed the doctor.

Dr Phan Van Thai, Specialist Level II completes his shift at 6 PM just before heading into the interdisciplinary team meeting, holding a bag of freshly baked pastries — a gift from a recently discharged patient. With enthusiasm, he shares the treats with his colleagues and nurses at the General Surgery Department. Everyone is warmed by the small gift that carries the patient’s heartfelt gratitude.

“Helping patients recover brings me endless joy. Conversely, the emotional toll of farewells weighs heavily on me. I often think of a cancer patient who in their final hours managed to have their child call me to convey their thanks and goodbyes. That experience remains deeply etched in my mind. “Caring deeply for patients has become a great source of strength, helping me stay steadfast throughout more than 20 years in this profession,” Dr Thai confides.

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