What year are you in the MD program, where are you spending the year, and who are you working with?
I had just finished with my third year of medical school when I started this global health opportunity in Guatemala. The organization I am working with is called Primeros Pasos, a rural primary care clinic in Palajunoj Valley, which is a 40-minute brisk walk or bumpy chicken-bus ride from the bustling city of Quetzaltenango. I am lucky to get to work with physicians, dentists, local Guatemalan students, and visiting volunteers from all over the world!
Can you share a brief description and goals of your project?
In conjunction with the staff at the clinic, I am working on a project that elucidates healthcare needs and barriers to care within the 10 communities of Palajunoj Valley. The needs assessment study will be a collaboration with Guatemalan medical staff to administer surveys to Mayan families in each community. The results will allow the clinic to streamline its limited resources, help expand services, and even open a new clinic in the near future.
What have you found most challenging?
The most challenging part so far has been coordinating work with the multiple functioning parts of Primeros Pasos. Because the project involves volunteers, local staff, and community leaders, keeping everyone involved has required a lot of persistence. This has been a fantastic learning experience, because I've had to be very diligent in maintaining my connections in a foreign environment, putting my Spanish to the test!
What have you found most rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect of my time here so far has been getting to know the culture and people of Guatemala. It has been a great privilege for me to see how Mayan practices permeate everyday life, how people encounter happiness within poverty, and how patients face immense health problems with optimism. It has also been great being integrated in to the day-to-day life of Primeros Pasos, which is a refreshing change from my clinical rotations at Northwestern.
Can you share any interesting cross-cultural experiences?
Each morning, it is customary to greet each staff member, doctor, janitor and student, before starting your day. Always, with a hug and kiss to the left cheek for the women and a firm handshake with the men. I’ve rarely had more awkward moments when I've attempted handshakes with the women during my first week here. I’ve now learned to always take 15 minutes to complete my greeting rounds in the mornings and to avoid awkward handshakes with the ladies.