Madison Bangert recently led a group from the American University of the Caribbean (AUC) - Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) on an International Volunteer HQ Medical Placement in Antigua, Guatemala. Here she reflects on the journey and highlights the value in volunteering abroad as a medical or nursing student…
Medicine is more than just mechanisms of disease, genetics, special gadgets and medication; it is about building relationships and transcending the arbitrary differences that divide us as human beings to fight for life. It is solving the puzzle that is disease and seeing humanity in its most vulnerable state and nurturing it back to health. For many in the basic science curriculum these concepts are briefly lost amongst the pages of textbooks and powerpoint slides while feverishly trying to study for what appears to be an overwhelming amount of content.
During the semester break between summer and fall semesters, the AUC Latino Medical Student Association took 13 students and a faculty advisor on an adventure to put the humanity back into medicine. The experience was more valuable than any of us could have imagined. It allowed us to have the patient interaction that we so badly desired, helped us hone our basic physical exam skills, learn new practical patient interaction techniques, understand the importance of preventative medication, and put us in situations where we had to adapt and overcome a variety of obstacles.
By far the highlight of the opportunity was working with the people, including the IVHQ local staff, our homestay family, and the hundreds of people that we got to see and help over the course of the week volunteering. It is a very personal experience to go and see a doctor; normally they poke and prod you, look at all the places where you don’t want people to look, and ask you very private questions and it is normally uncomfortable enough with only one person doing these things. Can you imagine 14 people in the room with you? Well, many of the patients participating at the villages and schools that we went to were very understanding of our situation as students and were wonderful enough to allow many of us crowd around and practice our techniques of patient interviewing and performing the physical exam. Each person was grateful for our time and thanked us gratuitously, even though it was us that should be thanking them. The opportunity that they made possible for us is unforgettable and reaffirmed for each member of our group that we are on the right career path.
Even though that we are all currently back in school with our heads deep in our books and computers, we now know what is waiting for us on the other side. We can picture the faces of those that we helped and be reassured that medicine is more than just genetics and mechanisms of drugs, it is about the people and fighting for what is so innately deserved by all – a higher quality of life.