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Phnom Penh


Going to the doctor in Phnom Penh

Seeing a doctor in a foreign country can be an overwhelming experience. Medical care in Cambodia is generally awful — marginally less so in Phnom Penh — but at the same time, travellers often have lots of reasons to see a doctor in Cambodia.

Two important components of Cambodian medical care: Angkor beer and U-Care Pharmacy.

Just some of the reasons a traveller may need to see a doctor in Cambodia: traffic accidents (be prepared); dengue fever, which is all over town at the moment; sexually-transmitted infections, which occur more frequently than many in Phnom Penh may admit. Others, like yours truly, may wake up one morning with a nasty staph infection, which is like, totally not fair (photos available on request).

One thing to be aware of is that while local doctors are less expensive, most have not had the sort of medical training that most Westerners would deem sufficient. Consider this: in 2008 prospective medical students took to the streets because Phnom Penh’s University of Medicine refused to admit any student that scored less than 50% of their entrance exam. Under pressure, the school ended up admitting all students who scored over 25% — not awfully reassuring. And because the educational system is so flawed, one can never be sure whether a doctor — or indeed any other professional — got their diplomas and positions through connections or “tea money”. It’s not surprising, then, that locals who can afford it head directly to Bangkok when they need treatment.

Monkey slurping blood from a huge syringe found in a bin outside a Wat Phnom clinic.

My advice? See a foreign doctor or a Khmer doctor who has a degree from a foreign university. I’ve heard way too many horror stories from even the best clinics and hospitals in town to chance it.

Because medications are sold over the counter in Cambodia, you can also do a pretty decent job diagnosing yourself. I know one long-term expat who takes a round of antibiotics “just in case” every six months or so. While this isn’t advisable (it builds resistance), if you’ve just got the sniffles, head to the pharmacy yourself. Two reputable pharmacies in town are the U-Care chain and Pharmacie De La Gare on Monivong Blvd. Other pharmacies may be cheaper, but you’re liable to get counterfeit medications.

If your self-diagnosis has failed, a few decent doctors are in town. Dr Gavin Scott is a British doctor who runs the Traveller’s Medical Clinic on Street 108. Dr Scott specialises in tropical diseases and sexual diseases, so if you’re worried you may have picked up one or the other, he’s the man to see. He’s also great for interesting banter and medical horror stories. Consultations cost $50 and lab fees are extra. Others recommend the SOS clinic on Street 51, an internationally accredited clinic that offers 24-hour medical care. To see a foreign doctor at SOS costs $80 — $24 more than to see a Khmer doctor. I’ve heard lots of recent complaints about the Khmer medical staff (sorry, beating a dead horse here) at SOS, so be wary. For routine gynaecological care, the expat choice in town is Dr Galina at the Naga Clinic. Appointments with her cost $30.

For lab tests, Pasteur Institute on Monivong is the only reliable independent lab in town.

And if all else fails, head to Bangkok or Singapore. You do have travel insurance, don’t you?

Travellers Medical Clinic
No. 88, St. 108 (Wat Phnom Quarter), Phnom Penh
T: (o23) 306 802/ (012) 898 981

International SOS
House 161, Street 51, Phnom Penh
T: (012) 816 911

Naga Clinic
#11 Street 254, Phnom Penh
T:(023) 211 300

About the author:
Previously, Lina has been based in Oakland, California, New York City, Dublin and London. Lina spends most of her time thinking about food, travel and synthpop. She's currently based in Siem Reap.
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