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From Myanmar to the UK and back again

3 July 2019

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We caught up with our Myanmar Country Director, Dr Thinn Hlaing, to hear a personal account of her journey as an NHS trained health professional who has utilised skills gained in the UK to contribute to the advancement of healthcare in Myanmar.  

Thinn spent 16 years working in the UK within the NHS, first as a Specialist Registrar in Clinical Biochemistry and Metabolic Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, and then as a Consultant in Chemical Pathology at Sheffield Teaching Hospital. Feeling the need to contribute to the development of Myanmar’s health sector, she returned to Myanmar in 2016 and joined THET as Country Director in January 2017.  

“Before I came to the UK in 2000, political instability in Myanmar had directly impacted my education. Like many of my peers, I experienced periods of academic hardship, such as high school and university closures. After passing my 10th grade exams, I had to undertake self-study at home for a period of three years before I was able to start my degree due to the university being closed. During my studies, the university was closed a further two times, once for a whole year. Because of this instability, I decided to undertake postgraduate training in the UK and to return to Myanmar once I was fully qualified.

After passing my PLAB exam in 2001, my first job was at Wrexham Maelor Hospital in North Wales. I stayed there until 2004, completing my pre-registration house officer (PRHO), and House officer roles and the whole of my core medical training. Everything – the language, culture, and of course the weather – was new to me. The working practices were also different and a couple of examples of this stand out – the use of early warning signs (EWS) and a critical outreach team for monitoring unstable patients on the wards – neither of which I had come across during my medical training back in Myanmar. In addition, I had to get to grips with new routine medical equipment. After the first six months, however, I had grown accustomed to it all, helped along the way by friendly and supportive colleagues. After passing my membership exam, I took up the post of Orthogeriatric registrar at Cardiff Heath Hospital for a couple of years before embarking on specialist registrar training in Chemical pathology and Metabolic Medicine in Cambridge University Hospital.

During my seven years of training in this specialism, I was selected as a Chief Residence for Pathology, a position which gave me the opportunity to attend a year-long Health leadership and Management course. The course was extremely useful, preparing me for my next role – that of Consultant in Pathology at Sheffield Teaching Hospital -where I lead the Toxicology section of STH lab and acted as Education Supervisor for one specialist registrar and one junior doctor per year.

While in Cambridge, I had been privileged to get involved in the setting up of the Cambridge and Yangon General Hospital health partnership, an experience that inspired me to think about what I could do with my expertise. Through my training in the UK, I had developed a range of skills and knowledge that I wanted to take back to Myanmar in order to contribute to the development of the national health sector.

In 2016, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election in Myanmar, forming a new democratic government. I wanted to take part in the process of “Time to Change” – the NLD’s winning campaign motto – and decided that this was the right time for me to return to Myanmar.

Having been trained in the UK for sixteen years, adjusting to working in Myanmar again was challenging and the contrasts in terms of infrastructure and resources, along with differences in practices, perspectives and opinions were striking. Despite the challenges, I felt my UK training not only equipped me with leadership and management skills, but with an understanding of health work in different parts of the world.

If I look back to where I started in 2001, I feel I have travelled many miles and gained invaluable experience in my speciality, which I am very passionate about. My work is centered around my patients, who no matter what, will be always be my focus. I’ve learned that everyone in my team is absolutely vital and that team work is the key to success. Most importantly, I appreciate that learning is continuous. I believe that sharing our knowledge and experiences with the rest of world is vital to advance in the field of global health and to be able to offer even more to those most in need.”

This post was written by:

Dr Thinn Hlaing - Myanmar Country Director - THET

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