Dr. Rathna is one of the leading figures among young Cambodian medical professionals at Japan Heart Children’s Medical Center. From delivery to cancer, he takes part in a range of surgical operations as a surgeon. Here’s his voice.
Q. Could you tell us what made you want to become a doctor?
It was my childhood dream. I come from a region called Prey Veng Province in the southeastern part of Cambodia. I was the 6th child of 9 siblings and grew up in a very poor family.
The village where I was born and raised was very far from the city. Even if my parents and siblings got sick, they could not go to the hospital. Even though there was a medical facility in the area, it was a place to treat people with traditional folk medicine. Some people got better, but others got worse. I always felt the lack of medical support in my community, and I wanted to change the environment someday by becoming a medical professional.
Q. I heard that you went to university using the Japan Heart scholarship program.
Yes. I don't think I would have made it happen to become a doctor without Japan Heart. When I was a child, I couldn't even think about going to university for financial reasons. The scholarship program truly changed my life.
(Japan Heart has a scholarship program called “Dream Bridge Scholarship Program” that provides support for high school students who have a strong ambition to become doctors and nurses until they graduate from university).
I was selected as a scholarship student together with my classmate Dr. Phoan, who is now working as a colleague, and went on to university in Phnom Penh. I am very grateful to Japan Heart for giving a poor child like myself a chance to make my dream come true.
Q. Now you work in the general ward and mainly treat adults. Why is that?
I’ve always been interested in becoming a surgeon, but I didn’t really know any doctors in person, I didn’t really know what a surgeon was really like. Before starting my career at this hospital, Dr. Yoshioka, the chief advisor of Japan Heart, was the person I pictured in my head when thinking about a “surgeon” because he was pretty much the only surgeon I was in touch with.
When I was a student, I thought I would probably become a pediatric surgeon following the footsteps of Dr. Yoshioka, but since I began working at this hospital, I have been working mainly in the general ward, not the pediatric ward.
At "Japan Heart Children's Medical Center", pediatric cancer patients are often the main focus of attention, but we also welcome many adult patients. The general ward accepts a wide range of patients, from children with diseases other than childhood cancer to the elderly. However, when I first came to this hospital, there were no full-time Cambodian doctors in the general ward. I wanted to be the one to continuously support the patients of the general ward.
Q. Do you like working for Japan Heart?
Most of the patients who come to this hospital are from an impoverished background. There are many people who have been giving up on treatment because they don’t have the money for it. Many patients wait until their symptoms get unbearably painful before coming here.
I also grew up in a poor environment far from urban areas, so I understand how difficult it is for many patients to just to “get to the hospital”. So, no matter how difficult the situation might be, I want to do the best I can for the patients.
At Japan Heart, surgery is performed free of charge for everyone. When I tell my patients about this, they’re often surprised and thank me again and again, saying that they have given up on treatment in other hospitals because of the cost. It's a moment that moves my heart as a doctor. Surgery alone may not save lives, but I became a doctor to provide medical care to the poor, so I find my work at Japan Heart very rewarding.
Q. What kind of a doctor do you aim to be?
I aim to become a general surgeon who can treat a wide range of diseases. Dr. Matsunaga, who is a long-term volunteer doctor from Japan, is my role model.
It takes a long time to become a full-fledged surgeon. In the beginning I often felt disappointed in myself because of the mistakes I made. However, at this hospital, there are people like Dr. Matsunaga and Dr. Morikawa, an experienced obstetrician and gynecologist from Japan, who serve as role models and help us whenever we get lost. They always tell me “Not to be too afraid of failure” and encourage me to keep trying. Thanks to the support, I feel that my skills and confidence have improved little by little.
Q. Could you tell us about your future vision?
I became a doctor because I wanted to help people in the area where I was born and raised. In the future I want to return to my community, and I deliver the skills and experiences I have gained through working with Japan Heart.
Dr. Seng Rathna
From Prey Veng province, Cambodia. After graduating from university using the scholarship program of Japan Heart, Dr. Rathna began his career at Japan Heart Children’s Medical Center in December 2019.