In the last few months of my co-op, I began to think about what I would do with the next two months left before I began classes again. In my four year, two co-op curriculum, having the summer off is a rarity that I wanted to be sure to make the most of. I also wanted it to be meaningful in some way. My journey began in the international co-op office asking about different volunteer opportunities and later turned into my applying for a language and medicine program in Cusco, Peru.
Beginning my 16 hour journey to Cusco, Peru, I sat down to write my first journal entry in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Terminal. I couldn’t wait to see what placement I’d be working on once I got there. After arriving to Cusco, I immediately felt the altitude change. At 11,200ft, we were over two miles up and could feel it even just walking. I found out at the placement orientation on the first day that I was placed on obstetrics and pediatric medical rounds at a local state clinic nearby to where I was living. At the clinic, I would be assisting with patient visits, including check-ups and pediatric vaccinations. After just coming off of my 6 month co-op here in Boston at Mass Eye and Ear, I was very interested in seeing the differences in the health care system and patient-provider interactions. But first I had to enroll in my Spanish classes. I had some background Spanish knowledge–not nearly enough as I would soon discover–and began working on my conversational and medical terminology skills right away. I was enrolled in Spanish classes, once a day for an hour each, where I worked on different conversational skills. Being in a different country, especially where English is not commonly known, I had to learn fast–and I did! By being immersed in the culture, I was able to practice all day.
My days would start early as I made the trek up the hill to the clinic. Each morning I arrived, there was already a line of mothers with their children strapped in on their back waiting to be seen by the doctor. The medical staff and I would open the small six-room clinic and turn on the small space heater in the pediatric room that the prior volunteer had donated to the clinic. We then opened the doors and the patients filed in. My first rotation was in the pediatric clinic. As a part of the Peruvian public health vaccine program, mothers who brought in their children for vaccinations were given rice, beans, and oil for their family. The program encouraged mothers to bring their children into the clinic and often was an invaluable source of groceries for many families. The next week, I joined the obstetric rotation where I got to find my first fetal heartbeat! It was absolutely incredible to be a part of so many mothers’ journeys. I learned a lot about patient care and communication, especially in situations of low health literacy for so many individuals. The staff at the clinic worked hard to help all patients inside and outside the clinic walls and were so thankful for their opportunity to do so. I plan to go back to the clinic once I graduate P.A. school and continue to volunteer my time to this set of such dedicated and hardworking individuals.
Each day that I went to work in the clinic, I was introduced to an incredible culture of people who had so much to share with me. They were so thankful for the help that I had to offer and I was thankful for all they had to teach me about the language, people, and culture. My six weeks in Peru are an experience I will never forget!
-Kendall Roberts, Health Science