Mountains and Medicine

I am a new volunteer here at Sacred Valley Health, and so far, it has substantially surpassed my expectations.  Since I am considering switching to the pre-med route in college, the main goal I have for my time in Peru is to see whether I would like the job of being a doctor.  Well, after my first three days in Peru, I can safely say that I now have a much better idea of what it’s like to practice medicine.

For instance, last week, Sacred Valley Health led a mobile health clinic in the small mountain village of Socma.  A group of us piled into two buses early in the morning and took one of the most scenic drives that I have ever been a part of.  We climbed up a huge beautiful mountain and enjoyed views of grand rivers, Inca ruins, and even the occasional goat crossing the road.  I sat next to Sarah (one of the co-founders of Sacred Valley Health) and learned all about where the rubber meets the road on financial and governmental matters, which really helped me understand how much this organization was helping people who really needed it.

SVH volunteer Sam arriving in Socma after an adventurous ride up the mountain

Once we arrived in Socma, we promptly unloaded and went on a half-hour hike up a mountain.  Needless to say, it was extremely awesome and we got to overlook the village that we would be working in, and get a glimpse of everyday life in Socma.

The mobile health clinic building in Socma

Then, it was time to work. As my Spanish is far from fluent, I spent most of my time shadowing a nurse practitioner named Karen. We sat at a table and one by one, patients would come sit in a chair and describe their problem to Maggie (a volunteer translator), who would then relay the information to me and the nurse.  Watching Maggie work really helped my Spanish and by the end of the day, I was asking the patients a list of necessary questions that were needed to collect data that would later be used to track whether or not our work was having an impact.

A medical professional, translator, and patient in Socma
Women in Socma standing outside the clinic

In addition to enhancing my Spanish in this way, I gained a much better understanding of medicine.  N.P. Karen would walk me through her exact thought process while Maggie was translating. She taught me enough that by the end of the day, I was the one who was asking the patients their initial four or five questions and Karen was overseeing me.  All this from someone who had never taken a medical class or shadowed a medical professional before!

I realized, on the bus ride home, that I had learned enough Spanish to thoroughly interview patients, enough medicine to start asking proper diagnostic questions, and had done it all on top of one of the most beautiful mountains that I have ever been on.  Not to mention that this “work” was a lot of fun!

Written by Sacred Valley Health volunteer Ellis Bernstein

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