Volunteer Review: Fred C., Medical School Elective in Peru
I'm Fred C. a final year medical student at the Peninsula medical school and for my medical elective abroad I chose to go to Peru with Projects Abroad. I spent six weeks in the Antonio Lorena hospital and two weeks in the Centro de Salud de San Sebastian.
Organizing elective placements can be a real hassle. Most of my medical student friends spent weeks and months e-mailing hospitals directly. Most of the time their planning was plagued with rejections, long delays in confirmation and last minute cancellations. Before going to med school almost five years ago I chose to go to Mexico for three months with Projects Abroad and do a medical placement there. I had such a problem free placement in Mexico that I had no doubt about choosing Projects Abroad for a second time.
In the run up to the departure for my elective I was in contact by e-mail with the Projects Abroad medical placement organizer in Peru, Patricia. I told her my interests and what I wanted to achieve on my elective. Patricia then approached local hospitals and primary care centers directly to find me the most suitable placements. She helped get all the relevant information from the Peruvian doctors to show confirmation of my placement to my medical school prior to departure. Most, if not all my friends found elective planning very stressful but Patricia and Projects Abroad made everything very easy.
Upon arrival I was welcomed at the airport and taken to my host family. My host family were amazing, they had two children which I got on with really well. They prepared immaculate food, helped me orient myself in the city and even invited me to join them on their annual family trip to the jungle. They really made me feel like a member of the family.
I spent the first three weeks of my placement working at the Accident and Emergency department of the Antonio Lorena government hospital. I got involved with taking patient histories, examinations and then also helped out with cannulations, blood-taking and suturing wounds. I would read patient notes written by Peruvian doctors to try and familiarize myself with Spanish medical terms. I would also look at X-rays, speak to the consultants about cases and use it to further my medical knowledge.
This was also the perfect opportunity for me to develop my medical Hispanic linguistic abilities so that I may one day be able to practice medicine in a Spanish speaking country. An unprecedented aspect of the placement was that the preferred language of the farmers was 'Quechua', however, most did speak Spanish too so I was ok.
The placement overall was a true eye-opening experience. As the Antonio Lorena hospital is a government hospital all patients had to pay for their treatments upfront. The doctors, nurses and beds were paid for but if they required bandages, antibiotics or things like syringes they would have to get their family members to purchase it on their behalf from the pharmacy. How they managed to cope with some major traumas was truly impressive but equally the lack of resources meant that on several occasions patients would suffer in pain unnecessarily and often not get live saving treatments.
My experience was also livened up by being paired up with Claire Fitzgerald a pre-med student from Ireland. She feels that it was really useful being paired up with someone like me with more medical experience. We became the best of friends, worked well as a team in the hospital, went out in the evenings and we did some travelling/sightseeing on the weekends together.
In our free time we ended up going to clubs and salsa lessons with other volunteers. Cusco is a very happening place. With Machu Picchu just around the corner, tourists from all over the world flock to see it so no matter what night of the week it was there was always something going on. I feel like Projects Abroad not only introduced me to lots of new people but they also brought me together with a lifelong friend also known as ‘Clarita’.
After three weeks in the emergency department we moved to the operating theatres to experience multiple types of surgery like obstetrics, orthopedic, ophthalmology, urology, pediatric, cardio-thoracic and general surgery. The breadth of cases we got exposed to was outstanding. The surgeons were often very keen to have us assist them in the operations if we asked and showed that we were keen. Claire and I naturally were very keen to get involved and we got the opportunity to 'scrub-in' several times on operations.
My best memory was when I stayed late one evening in the A&E department and helped treat a patient with chest pain. The next morning the same consultant bumped into me and insisted I help him with a really difficult left lower lobectomy, (the removal of part of a lung). Not only was this a very unusual case because the patient had a huge cyst destroying his lower lobe of the lung but the consultant was so keen for me to get involved that he did lots of hands on teaching throughout the operation. I learnt a lot and I really felt I made a difference. This was the first of many so it was a truly memorable day.
For the last two weeks of my eight week elective I asked Patricia if she could get me involved with a primary care centre. The 'Centro de Salud de San Sebastian' is a big centre offering a multitude of primary care services. Like the equivalent of a General Practice and a day case community hospital in England. Here I was involved with GPs, pregnancy checks, healthy baby checks and minor injuries. All in all it was a very diverse and useful placement.
Peru as a country is beautiful. During my eight week elective in Cusco I got acclimatized to the high altitude and made the most of my free weekends by visiting the lower areas around the city. I also got an idea from other visitors about the best places to visit around Peru. At the end of my placements in Cusco I went on a one month trip down to the south of Peru and then up the coast to Lima. The opportunities for a great placement and lot of onward travel are plentiful in Peru. The main language is Spanish with Quechua and other native languages existing alongside it.
I came to Peru with the aim of getting a really broad exposure to all aspects of medicine in a developing country for the benefit of my medical studies and that's exactly what Projects Abroad enabled me to do. I not only came away with a life-long friend, I learnt a lot, including salsa and I had the best time of my life.
Final year medical student
Peninsula Medical School
Universities of Exeter and Plymouth
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.