Som Sophal’s 20 years of Frontline Care
In 1998, a sign was posted, in both Khmer and English, in the middle of a rice field in the town of Siem Reap. This rice field was the exact ground where AHC was to be built. The sign advertised for medical and non-medical staff, with some facility in English, to apply for a position at a proposed new hospital.
Mr Som Sophal passed by this sign and was immediately interested in joining the AHC team.
“There were not many positions open for nurses in Siem Reap in those days, and there were many people who applied for those positions,” recalls Sohpal, “So I applied the very next day.”
Sophal attended an interview with AHC’s then CEO, Jon Morgan, in the Kesararam Pagoda, followed by a written exam. Sophal passed both and AHC hired him as one of the first 10 staff members at AHC. The early staff members trained for three months while construction of AHC was still being completed, learning specialised paediatric healthcare skills, and taking English classes.
It was Jon Morgan’s foresight that some English language skills would be required, so AHC staff would be able to communicate with the international volunteer staff. The aptitude of local staff in learning and understanding English enabled hundreds of international volunteers to develop the hospital since its formation.
Beyond language, Jon Morgan recognised Sophal’s healthcare experience and leadership qualities and appointed him the head of the Inpatient Department (IPD). He worked with a small team of local medical professionals and international volunteers: Ms Geetha from Sri Lanka was the Nursing Supervisor; Ms Mangala from Sri Lanka was Nursing Supervisor in IPD. Volunteer nurses Emma and Maria from the UK, and Susie, Babette and Carol from the US helped train Cambodian staff and treat patients. Dr James from the UK established and equipped the ICU and ER.
“In the beginning, everyone came to the hospital either by bicycle or by moto. Everyone was younger; the town was much smaller and much quieter. The most common cases we saw were children who had injuries from accidents on the roads or from farm machinery; dog bites from feral dogs, or waterborne diseases from unclean water.”Som Sophal
Much of this is still the reality in Cambodia today, as AHC continues to treat diseases like rabies, typhoid and diarrhoea, in addition to expert subspecialty care.
Sophal was also a major part of the development of AHC’s education programme.
“AHC has always placed education at the core of all the things we do,” says Sophal. He helped developed a robust medical and nursing education programme at AHC, which has further evolved into a specialised teaching hospital, educating healthcare professionals from across Cambodia, and treating children for illnesses often not available elsewhere in the country.
Over the years of Sophal’s tenure, AHC slowly began to grow, hire more staff, and expand its operations. From the very beginning, the mission of the hospital stressed ethics, compassion, respect, discipline, and good management. Today, Mr. Som Sophal is the Director of Nursing at AHC.
Thank you to long-time volunteer Nancy Storrow, who interviewed and profiled AHC’s veteran staff.