Mary Stephens is a 19-year-old pre-med student who interned with Maximo Nivel’s medical program in Cusco, Peru. After spending a year at Georgia Tech, studying biology and neuroscience, Mary decided an internship abroad would give her the experience and impact she was looking for, before continuing with med school. Here’s her story.

During the Summer of 2017, I arrived in Cusco, Peru prepared for an opportunity I could never have imagined. For 7 weeks, I worked in a local healthcare center, just under a mile from the main square in Cusco. Monday-Friday, I walked with my housemate from our homestay to the clinic. The clinic provided basic medical service such as general medicine, obstetrics, psychology, dentistry, and pediatrics.

During my first few weeks, I worked closely with clinic nurses, Patricia and Florencia. It was wonderful to be able to shadow medical professionals as I was able to learn hands-on how the clinic operated, and what they did to give back to the community. Throughout my time with the coordinators, we made frequent trips to the local elementary school to measure the height and weight of the students. We also distributed anti-parasitic medications to ensure students were safe from unhealthy parasites they might have encountered during their daily routines. I then moved to working in administration.

Administration was a bit tougher than expected as paperwork was extensive. Of course, this position gets tedious but it’s important to remain in compliance with government rules and regulations. Working in the administrative role helped me to develop my patience to accurately complete forms, correctly file important documents, and how to best maintain the administrative office.

From administration, I made my way to triage. In triage I helped to admit patients, took blood pressure, recorded height and weight of patients, and measured their temperature. I enjoyed this part of my internship a lot, as it provided me with the experience of communicating with patients, and improved my ability to take measurements accurately. In this department, I was able to closely observe doctors, nurses, pediatric check-ups, the process of giving injections and measuring hemoglobin, and I even got to sit in on some medical presentations.

I also worked in obstetrics. In this department, I learned the flow of prenatal check-ups. I was entrusted with finding and measuring the fetus’ heartbeat, which was incredible! In addition, I took the blood pressure and weight of the pregnant patients to ensure they weren’t at risk.

During my 7 weeks in Cusco, I stayed with the Morales family; a Cusquena family who opened their home and hearts to me. Dalia, Martha, and Milagros were all professional bakers, so it’s no wonder I had the best pastries during my stay. Nights at the house included jokes and laughter, singing, dancing, and eating the best foods. I even had the chance to celebrate my birthday while abroad, and my host-family surprised me with cake for breakfast! Later that night we spent time together watching fireworks. It will definitely be a birthday to remember!

We celebrated Peruvian holidays such as Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi. Both holidays included festivals, music, dancing, and food. I actually got the chance to parade with the doctors, nurses, and staff from the clinic on the Friday before Inti Raymi. Not only was it fun to watch and celebrate, but it was exciting to actually be part of something so significant to the Peruvian culture. My family made sure we celebrated U.S Independence Day as well. We made hamburgers, s’mores, sang the national anthem, and watched fireworks on the computer.

Though the medical field can be straining at times, my family made sure I was able to enjoy Cusco and explore all there is to explore. On the weekends, we traveled to ruins in the area to better understand the intelligence and history of the Incas. From Machu Picchu, to Pisac, Tipon, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Moray, we left no stone unturned. We even made time for ziplining The Sacred Valley, and hiking Rainbow Mountain.

My medical internship abroad experience was more than I could have dreamed. I stepped out of my comfort zone to gain insight into a culture and industry I knew little about, and at the end of it, I left having advanced in a foreign language, gained hands-on experience in various sectors of the medical field, explored the beautiful terrain of a country rich in history, and returned with a full heart, and strong ties to those I will always consider my Cusquena family.