January 4, 2012
From September to December 2011, I had the privilege to participate in the UC Davis Quarter Abroad in Oaxaca, México program also known as the Latino/a Health Internship Program. During these three months, we attended lectures on bi-national health, participated in clinical rotations at the local health centers and the state general hospital, and completed brigades work on family planning, tropical diseases (malaria, dengue, chagas) and gender issues. On Mondays and Tuesdays, we attended the lectures, which were conducted by our university professor and our local medical director from Oaxaca. From Wednesday to Friday, we completed our clinical rotations, which would last from 8am-12pm. At the local health centers, we shadowed doctors while they conducted their primary care consultations. Many of the visits revolved around women and children (October was national immunization month). We also saw patients with hypertension and diabetes. One of the most nerve-racking experiences while rotating at the health centers occurred when a young, pregnant mother came-in to deliver her baby. A house employee, the young woman left her family and her small town to work in the city to help her family financially. Pregnant and without any family, the employer brought her in. However, the woman was only a few months pregnant. Although the doctors called for an ambulance to take her to the hospital because of her fragile condition, they did not arrive quickly enough and so the doctors had to deliver the baby at the clinic. Born before full term, the baby was not breathing correctly. No longer able to wait for the ambulance, one of the doctors took the baby to the hospital in the back of a truck that the clinic owned. Once the ambulance finally arrived, the mother was also sent to the hospital, but they later returned her to the clinic. This was one of the most shocking experiences because of how quickly the situation turned from a regular visit to the doctor realizing the woman was ready to give birth to delivering the baby and then not knowing if the baby had survived. White coat on and stethoscope around my neck gave me an unlimited access to primary care consultations, surgery rooms, delivery rooms, and the emergency department. Observing patient to nurse/doctor interactions helped me understand the differences that exist between countries in terms of culture and professionalism. I learned that although we may be under high stress, have limited resources, and flooded with patients, it’s important to remain calm, professional, and be empathetic to the patient’s needs. One of my favorite cultural experiences was Día de los Muertos (day of the dead), which takes place on Nov. 1st and 2nd. During this celebration, altars are created with food, flowers, photos, and other items to remember loved ones that have passed away. A tradition long held in Oaxaca, our group entered an altar and tapete contest (tapetes are colorful sand sculptures built on the ground). We decided to dedicate our altar and tapete to the town of Huatla de Jiménez and a "curandera" or shaman María Sabina, who was known for using hallucinogenic mushrooms as a form of healing/traditional medicine. Thousands of people came to see our altar and tapete at the cemetery. I really enjoyed this experience because I was able to speak to hundreds of people (locals and foreigners) and share with them the story of María Sabina. People were extremely happy to see us participating in the local festivities, and we were very honored to be part of the local traditions. After three months of living in Oaxaca and weeks spent as an observant at local health centers and the general state hospital, I feel more culturally competent to treat Latino patients and in particular, those with an indigenous background. Service to indigent communities has always been a major focus in my future career plans. I hope to use my education to provide medical care to low-income communities, immigrants, and those without health insurance or a limited public health insurance plan.
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