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BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 01 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:060136
  1. Kerry Davies, second year medical student1
  1. 1Guy's, King's, and St Thomas' School of Medicine, London

After two years' work experience in Cambodia, Kerry Davies talks about how she set up and carried out a project with local staff to tackle the issues involved in identifying and treating children with malnutrition

Before applying to medical school as a mature student, I spent two years working with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in Cambodia. The VSO provides advisers to non-governmental and international organisations to work at provincial and central level (box 1). Through VSO I worked as a hospital management adviser for Unicef in a remote hospital in Svay Rieng province. When I first arrived in Cambodia, I was overwhelmed by the size of the problems. I just didn't know where to begin.

Box 1: Getting involved

The Voluntary Service Overseas actively recruits professionals with postqualification experience to work in developing countries throughout the world. Although the VSO does not take volunteers without professional experience, they have a Youth for Development scheme that caters for adults under the age of 25 without experience to work in a variety of organisations in developing countries for 6-9 months. Many of these volunteers are on gap years from university and may use data collected for their dissertations. If you would like further information visit


Presenting situation

Cambodia is one of the world's least developed countries with an under five mortality of 12.2% and a life expectancy of 54 years. Only 25% of the rural population have access to clean water and 10% to sanitation.1 Although severe malnutrition exists in Cambodia it has never been identified as a large problem both in terms of the number of children with malnutrition or staff capacity to manage the child's treatment. The paediatric staff of Cambodian doctors and nurses highlighted two cases in which they were unable to treat these children because they presented with severe malnutrition, …

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