Volunteer Review: Shelby W., Medicine in Argentina
I was finishing up my undergraduate degree and applying to physician assistant programs before I left for Argentina. I wanted this experience in Argentina to increase my knowledge in Spanish medical terminology, to broaden my horizons in international experience from Europe to South America and to help serve an underserved population. Two days after receiving my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Spanish, I boarded the plane to what I didn’t know would be an experience that would blow away all of my expectations.
My Medicine placement
I spent five weeks in Córdoba, Argentina volunteering in a pediatric hospital where I served a very large, underserved population. I specifically volunteered in a public sector where everyone receives free healthcare. The resources are very limited compared to the US. For example, my time serving was spent focusing on newborns and infants with respiratory problems such as bronchitis, bronchospasms and pneumonia. The US would commonly give the family a nebulizer to take home; whereas nebulization in this hospital is done on site with large O2 tanks.
Diaphragm vacuums are also used in the same room to remove mucous from the lungs and nasal canal. I was in awe as I saw doctors fight through all of the noise in one small room to hear infants’ respiratory sounds on low quality stethoscopes. Even with the lack of resources, and increased obstacles, the doctors continued to be extremely passionate in providing the best care possible.
They would often take time to lecture parents to change their lifestyles for the betterment of their child’s health (quit smoking so they can afford soap). Those five weeks taught me how passionate I want to be as a future healthcare provider. For a better understanding of the situation I need to see the bigger picture. I cannot always rely on the latest technology to diagnose someone, nor can I always expect the perfect environment in order to provide high quality patient-entered primary care.
When my time in Argentina was quickly coming to an end, I became saddened by having to leave my Kinesiology family at the hospital. Till this day I miss the eleven students that became my close friends, who taught me about life in Argentina and life in the health care world. I gained a mother in the hospital as well, Pato, the head of the Kinesiology department, who took care of me while I was sick and taught me the importance of passion. It is comforting to know I will always have family in Argentina.
Leisure time in Argentina
When the weekends rolled around I made sure that I took full advantage of them. My first weekend in Argentina happened to be a holiday weekend. Thanks to the Argentina Projects Abroad Facebook page I made friends with other volunteers in Córdoba prior to my arrival in Argentina. Four of us explored all that Patagonia had to offer – glaciers, mountains, fresh water lakes and hiking trails.
This first weekend trip demonstrated to us how important it was to speak Spanish. We originally were supposed to have two flights to get from Córdoba to El Calafate. After our first flight we were told that there was a short delay in our second flight. All the while, we were making friends with an older couple who was also on our flight.
The short delay became a much longer delay and the airlines decided to take people to a hotel to wait. About half the people had been taken to the hotel on buses when a worker came to us saying there was no more room at the hotel so we were going to fly to another city and stay the night there and leave the following day for El Calafate. The remaining passengers became angry and were yelling at this particular worker. I was the one person out of our group of four who was fluent in Spanish. I had to think on my toes because we were not in the most ideal situation. I approached the worker calmly and in Spanish told him our “grandparents” were taken to the hotel already and we would deeply appreciate it if we were not separated from them. I provided the names of the old couple we had befriended. After a short time he confronted us and said he had paid for a taxi to take us to the hotel so we could be with our grandparents. We arrived at the hotel and our “grandparents” were almost in tears because of what we did to not be separated from them.
In the end we were very grateful for the kindness that the locals portrayed towards us. There was an appreciation for us knowing the language and even for my friends who tried their hardest to communicate in Spanish.
I must mention that if it wasn’t for the wonderful staff in Córdoba, Argentina I don’t think I would have had such an amazing experience. Sol started off my experience on a great note. She showed me around the city and taught me a bit about the history of Córdoba. My coordinator, Santi, always checked up on me at the hospital to make sure that my medical placement was meeting my expectations. He also made sure everything was okay at my host family’s house.
The staff provided the social media sites where I was able to make friends with the other volunteers prior to my arrival. Nati, a staff member, would print boarding passes for us before we would leave on weekend trips. When we had delayed flights she was great about contacting our hostels for us to inform them we wouldn’t arrive on time. In all, the staff was always there for us when we needed help with something or advice on things to do.
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.