My name is Rebeca and I have had the pleasure of volunteering twice with Maximo Nivel’s Medical & Healthcare projects – first in Guatemala, and most recently in Peru. Here’s my story.
As a healthcare professional, I understand the delicate balance between medical science and personal care. It seems to me that although the U.S offers top-notch technology and advanced medical treatments; our system lacks the true human connection that patients need from their healthcare providers.
Getting involved in a medical volunteer project in Latin America reminds me that human interaction and interpersonal skills are an essential component of patient care. I’m originally from Honduras, a country that lacks medical resources and community outreach for overall wellbeing, so I find it very important for me to give back to these communities. Not only is it important to me because I know that volunteers are a crucial factor in maximizing patient services in this region, but also because it’s important for me to re-establish the connection with my culture, and to incorporate their compassionate nature in healthcare in my everyday work back home.
Medical Volunteering in Guatemala
In Guatemala, my volunteer placement was in a Geriatric center on the outskirts of Antigua. With three years of clinical experience, I spent some time teaching the less experienced volunteers proper medical care techniques, such as triage, wound care and basic vital signs perimeters. The direct impact I felt we made at this project was specific to educating patients on proper nutrition, exercise, and pre-diabetic prevention, so they could live longer and healthier lives.
I chose to stay with a host family which added to the volunteer abroad experience. It felt like a college dorm room with 5 girls in one room. It made it easy to connect with others, learn from one another, and helpful for those who wanted to practice their Spanish. Our host mom had no issues accommodating her meals to my vegetarian lifestyle, and for the first time, I was able to experience Guatemala’s delicious beans with a Salvadoran spin to them.
Medical Volunteering in Peru
My volunteer experience in Peru, however, was quite different. Compared to the slower pace of the Geriatric center in Guatemala, my placement in Peru was in a fast-paced level III community clinic outside of Cusco.
I worked alongside ER/OR nurses, nursing students, lab technicians, and surgeons and learned to improvise in wound care techniques and injection techniques. I was able to assist doctors with surgeries and learned to improvise and maximize the little resources we had available. I feel the impact made in Peru was significant because we provided MMR vaccinations for a lot of children, and conducted educational outreach in schools and around the community houses to inform parents about the importance of vaccinations to protect against outbreaks that can be dangerous in a small community like Chinchero.
I also stayed with a host family in Peru, but it was really different. I actually got to travel and volunteer with a dear friend of mine, so we were placed together and shared a room with two separate beds. The privacy was nice, and I felt much more comfortable. Our host mom always prepared a delicious bean and potato soup that kept us warm during the Cusquenan winter nights.
Activities & Excursions
Since I had visited Guatemala so many times before, I wanted to make the whole trip about work and outreach to the indigenous community. I focused on dedicating myself to my volunteer placement and didn’t go out much. However, I did get involved with on-campus activities such as salsa dancing. It was fun meeting new people and learning new dance moves.
In Peru, I signed up for some bucket list destination excursions that I’ll never forget. I visited Vinicunca Mountain, A.K.A Rainbow Mountain. It was a pretty exhausting trek up – 5,200 meters above sea level to be exact – so exhausting that I opted to ride a horse back down! And my lungs thanked me for it. I also did the 2-day trail to Machu Picchu which is a once in a lifetime experience.
Another recommendation is the Pisco Museum. Peru is known for making their national drink, Pisco, and they’re constantly in competition with their neighbor Chile for having the most authentic version. It was an opportunity to learn a little bit more about Peru’s culture and the importance of Pisco in relation to that.
Final Thoughts About My Experience
Volunteering abroad renews my faith in humanity and mankind and allows me to come back home with a humbling perspective. If I only focused on the medical side of healthcare, I would neglect the very real human connection that’s crucial to a patient’s recovery and for the personal growth of healthcare professionals. I’ve also learned that when other professionals see me taking the time to really connect with a patient, they, too, are reminded to be more empathetic to our patient’s needs.
I think it’s important that all medical students and professionals get involved in a medical volunteer abroad project. Learning about another country’s healthcare system brings a new perspective about healthcare as a whole; whether that’s being grateful for all that’s available to us in our own countries or acknowledging the ways in which we can learn and improve our own techniques based on what we’ve seen.
The Latin American culture is overall more compassionate and affectionate than the more distant people of the west, and I think it’s a very important trait for all medical professionals to embody. Sometimes, we’re quick to diagnose, prescribe, and move on to the next patient without really considering how a patient might be feeling. Volunteering abroad in Latin America allows us to really put people first, even if at a slower pace, so we learn to acknowledge the person and not just the patient.
If you were inspired by Rebeca’s story, and are wondering how you can get involved in a volunteer abroad program, check out our medical volunteer abroad projects here. No matter your passion or skill level, there’s a place for you. So, what are you waiting for? Don’t just dream it, live it.