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I'm sitting at the beach on the last night of my international
rotation and I can't help but reflect on this wild experience. For
the past four weeks, I have been in Costa Rica studying medical
Spanish and having the time of my life. Over the past month I have
transformed into an almost-fluent Spanish speaker, and I am so
excited that I will be better able to communicate with my
Spanish-speaking patients when I return to the States.
I was fortunate to have various clinical experiences while here
in the jungle. I visited a hospital in a small city where the wards
consisted of two large rooms full of hospital beds, one room for
men and the other for women. In these wards, there were no concerns
of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
violations and no thoughts toward maintaining patient privacy.
Labor and delivery room
The patients in these shared wards, in beds just 3 feet apart
from each other, had conditions ranging from pneumonia to
dehydration to post-op recovery. The maternity ward was another
large, open room filled with a mixture of women in labor and new
moms who had recently delivered in the separate, sterile delivery
room. Downstairs in the emergency department, patients with IVs in
their arms lined the hallways, waiting to be seen by a doctor. The
equipment in the emergency department was run-down, to say the
least-I was shocked to find they stored iodine in an old Gatorade
Trauma area and emergency room
We went to a lactation clinic to assist new mothers in caring
for and feeding their new babies. We visited an orphanage where we
attended to the various medical needs of the children. Finally, I
spent multiple afternoons working with an internist in a small
clinic. There, I relearned the importance of recording a complete
medical history and determining a patient's diagnosis on the basis
of signs and symptoms instead of expensive laboratory tests. In
Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to practice medicine with a
rural, underserved population minus the technology on which we rely
so heavily in the United States.
Sure, hopping on a plane and heading to a faraway country on
your own can be intimidating, but the medical and life experiences
are truly invaluable. After years of extremely hard work, exam
taking, and sleep deprivation, it is possible to find yourself
asking, "Why am I putting myself through all of this?" I found my
answer in Costa Rica, where my passion for medicine was reignited.
For me, this has been the most valuable souvenir I can bring home
with me. I now feel refreshed and ready to take on the world once I
get back to the States. In a study I came across recently, an
estimated 55% of medical students complete an international
elective during or before medical school. I hope that many other
students are lucky enough to have a similar experience. No matter
where you choose to spend your time, I don't believe you can go
wrong, but be prepared for adventure, in the form of potentially
finding a snake in your bathroom or even stepping on a stingray in
After reading about my enticing international adventure you're
probably wondering how you can have your own! Most medical colleges
have established international rotation Web sites or departments,
so be sure to check with your school first. This can make the
selection and the process of getting your rotation approved
significantly easier. If your school does not offer these
resources, here is some information that will be helpful. First,
decide what type of experience you would like to have. Are you
interested in a certain part of the world? I narrowed my search to
Spanish-speaking countries. Is there a certain population with
which you would like to work? Many programs abroad work with
specific populations, so choose what interests you most. Once
you've narrowed it down, you can start researching a program that
fits your needs. Here is a list of Web resources to get you
started. Good luck!
Chair, Council of Student Members
A. T. Still University College of Osteopathic Medicine, 2013
April 2012 Issue of IMpact
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