This summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to Peru for a month in order to help organize a free medical campaign for the poor neighborhood of Chepen. While there, I had the chance to learn several medical skills like suturing, wound cleaning, and the proper technique to perform a standard physical. Then, I got to practice all these skills at various small hospitals in the northern region of Peru, such sa Hospital Chepen and Hospital de Pacasmayo. Furthermore, the amazing staff let me attend several surgeries (i.e., a cholecystectomy), and they let me be on-call with them all night in the emergency room.
When we weren’t in the hospitals gaining hands-on experience, we spent our time practicing our medical Spanish, learning about the healthcare system of Peru, and preparing for our weekly classes for children in the small district of Pacasmayo called El Progresso. Since the most common illnesses seen in Peru are preventable via good hygiene, educating the kids about hygiene is extremely important. During our time there, we held a total of three classes. We gave presentations on what hygiene was, the importance of eating a balanced diet, and how to practice good hygiene. Although these lessons were very important, they were not the only thing we did for the Peruvian community.
A week before leaving Peru, we held our main medical campaign. The volunteers were all assigned different jobs like registration, triage, and pharmacy while the three physicians provided free medical consults. Thanks to the donations of medications from the U.S, we were able to provide all the medicine prescribed by the doctors free of charge to the patients. By the end of the day, we saw over 100 patients in a little under 5 hours.
My trip to Peru is one I will cherish for the rest of my life. When I left, I was hoping to learn a few new medical skills and gain some hands-on experience. However, I learned something much more valuable than that. As I went to the various hospitals and talked with the medical professionals, it became more and more obvious to me that every day was a struggle for their communities. Since Hospital Chepen didn’t have a blood bank, they didn’t have the ability to handle major trauma incidents. This being said, the only hospital capable of handling trauma was a 2-hour ambulance ride away. Furthermore, the lack of education on contraceptives has led to a very high birth rate. Unfortunately, most families don’t have the resources to provide a healthy environment for their kids, so gastritis and similar diseases are extremely common. Lastly, many people simply can’t afford a medical consult. Therefore, they avoid treating an acute illness until they have developed into a major problem that is no longer an “easy” fix. With all this in mind, I now truly understand why programs like Doctors Without Borders exist. There are communities in the world that truly do need help. Next summer, I hope to return to Chepen and help the communities in whatever little way that I can. If one day I do get to become a physician, I aim to spend some of my time in places like Hospital Chepen.