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Student Doctors Travel to Cambodia 
Gain New Perspective on Rural Medicine

August 10, 2023

PCOM South Georgia students in Cambodia posing for a group photo with the Angkor Watt temple in the background During their free time, the students visited Angkor Watt, a temple complex in Cambodia that’s considered the largest religious monument in the world. A symbol of Cambodia, Angkor Watt appears on the nation’s flag.

This summer, seven students who had just completed the first year of the doctor of osteopathic medicine degree program at PCOM South Georgia in Moultrie, embarked on an adventure that gave them a new appreciation for medicine in the United States. In addition, they gained a sense of admiration for the determination and resourcefulness of the physicians and other healthcare workers they met while visiting Cambodia.

“This was cultural immersion, and it gave us all a different perspective,” Pathya Kunthy (DO '26) said. “Being medical students, we need to be well-versed in and experience what a third-world country is like.”

DO students holding PCOM South Georgia flags in CambodiaIn June of 2023, the PCOM South Georgia class of 2026 DO students, all who hail from Georgia—Tyler Key (DO '26) of Moultrie; Emma High (DO '26) of Saint Simons Island, Tiffany Pittman (DO '26) of Stockbridge, Grace Perry (DO '26) of Hahira, Krupesh G. Patel (DO '26) of Valdosta, Pathya “PK” Kunthy (DO '26) of Conyers and Alexander Studebaker (DO '26) also of Conyers—made the trip. Joining them was Studebaker’s wife, Molly Studebaker of Covington, a PharmD student at the University of Georgia.

While Kunthy was born in Cambodia, at a young age he came to the United States where he was raised by his aunt. His parents remained in Cambodia where they were both physicians and hospital administrators. Kunthy would return for annual visits. He always wanted to bring friends with him for one of those visits.

When his medical school friends began talking about opportunities to travel abroad and see what health care is like in another country, Kunthy recommended his home country. His mother, now a retired hospital administrator, and his father, now a retired physician who works in Cambodia’s public health ministry, coordinated the trip.

“Here in South Georgia, we’re supposed to be practicing rural medicine,” Kunthy explained. “The whole purpose was to go over there to see what rural medicine is really like and then to appreciate the differences and also look at the similarities. They’re able to get a majority of procedures done, but with less.”

The students began their journey by spending two days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, where they toured the hospital and observed several surgical procedures. This hospital, which opened in 1963, was one of the oldest public hospitals in the country. Kunthy’s mother, Sophal Chuong, MD, retired from the hospital about five years earlier, and his aunt, who was a midwife there at the time of their visit, helped show the students around.

The students observed ophthalmology surgery, breast mass removal, brain tumor removal and some emergency surgeries that included a spinal stabilization and a maxillofacial surgery. They were surprised that even with the more complex surgical procedures, general anesthesia was not used very often. Spinal blocks were used instead. When asked why, the medical staff explained that spinal blocks were easier for patient recovery.

The next two hospitals the group visited were KV Hospital and China-Cambodia Friendship Hospital. These were both newer hospitals located in more rural areas. Kunthy’s father, Kunthy Teng, MD, transitioned from being a physician in Cambodia to working in public health focusing on HIV control. He arranged for the visits to these other hospitals so the students could see the difference between the older hospital and the newer ones.

DO students observe a C-section delivery in an operating room in CambodiaWhile visiting the China-Cambodia Friendship Hospital, the students observed a C-section delivery. The physician delivering the baby spoke English very well and explained to the students each part of the procedure. He even compared his preferences for steps in the procedure to those done by U.S. physicians. For the students, who had not yet observed a C-section in their studies, it was a preview of what they would learn in the future. With permission from the mother and the hospital staff, the students used their cell phones to record the experience. They returned with videos to share with PCOM faculty and classmates.

The students realized there were some commonalities among all three hospitals that people in the U.S. take for granted. For one, only the surgical facility had air conditioning. At the new hospitals, some of the private more expensive rooms had air conditioning, but the other rooms did not. This was despite the humid summer temperatures. Another was that scrubs the Cambodian hospital staff members wore tended to be much smaller than those made for American hospital staff.

“I felt like a giant over there,” said Key, a PCOM student who stood head and shoulders above his Cambodian hosts. At times the staff had to improvise to make sure Key was appropriately outfitted.

In Cambodia, the students noticed that for each patient, the entire family came to the hospital along with the patient. Because of the significant distance from a patient’s home to the hospital, leaving children at home is not always an option.

“There was a little girl running around in the courtyard by herself because her parent was being seen by doctors,” High said.

Kunthy explained, “What happens in those rural hospitals, it’s not just one or two people. It’s the whole family. You’ll see a patient’s whole family camping out in hallways.”

At every hospital, the students felt like honored guests.

“Each hospital was very welcoming,” Patel said. “The doctors met us at the cars. They came walking out taking our pictures.”

While the students observed and did not practice medicine, the experience made them realize that rural medicine is vastly different in each country.

“Comparing the number of doctors and the population, in Cambodia people are often a few hours away from the nearest hospital or general doctor,” Patel said. “That’s a different level of rural medicine. Just being able to appreciate that makes me want to push harder in medical school so I can help people who don’t have the resources we have here.”

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In 2019, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied 125-year history, extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia. An additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia, PCOM South Georgia offers both a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution that trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the region. For more information, visit or call 229-668-3110.

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