Internal Medicine: Global Perspectives
Eduardo Penny, MD, FACP
President, Latin American Society of Internal Medicine (SOLAMI)
Peru is a country rich in history and geographic beauty. In Peru you will find Machu Picchu, “The Lost City of the Incas”, perched on a mountaintop 7,970 feet above sea level, one of the largest areas of rain forest in the world, and the Andes mountains. Its economy has experienced significant growth in the last 15 years, and the percent of the population considered poor has dropped from a little over 50 percent in 2000 to about 35 percent today. In this feature Eduardo Penny, president of SOLAMI, the Latin American Society of Internal Medicine, talks about his experience heading a large and diverse organization, the challenges of treating the poor in Peru, and what he loves about his country.
Peru At A Glance
- Total population: 27,589,000
- Gross national income per capita (PPP international $): 6,490
- Life expectancy at birth: Male 71; Female 75
Healthy life expectancy at birth: Male 60; Female 62
* "Healthy" life expectancy: the average number of years that a person can expect to live in "full health" by taking into account years lived in less than
full health due to disease and/or injury.
Source: World Health Organization
What inspired you to become a physician?
I wanted to help people live a good quality of life.
What are your responsibilities as president of SOLAMI? What motivated you to take the role?
Our main goal at SOLAMI and my biggest responsibility as president is to bring the internists of the Latin American region together, and to share with each other the different experiences of our countries. As an organization, it is then our role to investigate the main health problems of our region.
What is the role of an internist do in Peru?
An internist has many roles in Peru — we are leaders in the medical care of patients, teachers of general practitioners on the “secrets” of medicine, and the investigators of health problems and diseases.
How long have you been serving as SOLAMI president and what have you accomplished during your tenure that you are proud of?
I have served for the required two-year term, and my term is ending in 2010. I am proud to have been part of furthering the desire of internists in our region to work together towards common goals.
What have you found to be the most challenging part of leadership?
The most difficult part of the job is to keep people united when facing a medical problem that we are trying to solve together, because everyone has a different position.
What are the biggest challenges of the Peru health care system? How are you addressing them?
Giving proper medical attention to the poorer citizens in Peru, and trying to prevent the diseases that affect them is a constant and difficult challenge.
What are your thoughts on how to improve this?
This is a structural problem in developing countries and is linked to issues of production, work, education, and sanitary measures, above all with respect to prevention and maintenance of health. Once we address those, treating this demographic will become easier.
Is access to electronic information or products influencing what patients want from their doctors in Peru?
Yes, because they have the opportunity to increase their knowledge about their health problems and possible solutions.
Does your society have collaborative relationships with other societies and if so is it beneficial to your society and how?
15 internal medicine societies of Latin American countries have an active role in the conduct and purpose of our society.
Are there enough young physicians choosing to be internists? What makes them do so? What are the barriers?
Right now we have 2,200 internists in Peru and we have issues with compensation. Another issue affecting students’ decisions to pursue internal medicine is the fact that many people do not make the distinction between an internist and a general practitioner. People in general have a limited definition of the internal medicine specialty, as opposed to gastroenterology, cardiology, neurology, etc. The feeling is that general practitioners as well as internists both work on solving “general” health problems and that both are capable of solving all of a patient’s problems. Also, quite frequently, general practitioners will call themselves internists, which encroaches upon the territory of internal medicine. There are also problems in differentiating in economic terms – if people don’t differentiate these two fields of medical care, they will not be able to differentiate the rates that they pay in private cases.
What do you love about Peru?
The people and the landscape.
What do you like about being an internist?
Being able to deal with health problems as a whole, in a comprehensive manner.
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