I knew that I wanted to go abroad as soon as I found out I could undertake an elective. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was adamant about making the most of it.
Peru was top of my list. Aside from already being fluent in Spanish, the travel opportunities that Peru offered were just too good to pass up; my only wish was that I could have spent another few weeks out there.
I arrived in Arequipa with an open mind. I knew the healthcare system and the culture were going to be completely different to what I was used to in the UK, and boy was I right!
Being a paramedic student, I swapped my green uniform for blue scrubs and headed for the Emergency Department. The ED was split into five different sections including paediatrics, surgery, traumatology, obstetrics & gynaecology and general medicine.
I spent most of my time in the surgery and traumatology sections. These were next door to each other, and I never knew what was going to come in next.
I witnessed some eye-opening presentations and medical practices to match. From open fractures and circular saw injuries to septic shock and cardiac arrests, I got to experience the lot. It was the two days I spent in the medical unit of the ED that really opened my eyes.
The economic burden had an enormous impact on the local healthcare system’s availability to deliver the 'gold standard' care I was used to seeing in the UK. Sadly, it was very much the case that if patients didn’t have the money to pay for equipment/treatment/diagnostics they simply didn’t receive them.
I witnessed one patient’s family come to donate blood so that their relative could receive it, just so that she could live a few more hours. This hit me hard. The patient was bleeding internally but didn’t have money for the diagnostic tests that would identify the source of the bleeding, let alone the money for the surgery to correct it.
I had many conversations with local doctors about this. They were all equally sad and frustrated. It was a difficult situation for them to be in. I felt so lucky that economical shortcomings didn’t affect my own practise. With all that said, the respect patients and families had for local doctors was unbelievable. It was a welcome sight and one I wasn’t expecting.
Hospital placement was Monday to Friday, so I had plenty of time to discover Peru. The time I spent outside of the hospital was incredible. I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing people who I could see becoming friends for life!
The Work the World house was amazing, truly a home from home. The staff were friendly and welcoming, always there for us when we needed them and ready with advice on where best to go in our free time. Watch out though; you’ll be dragged into learning Salsa dancing after the weekly BBQ if you’re not careful!
There was so much to do in the afternoons and evenings and at weekends that we had trouble fitting it all in. I spent time white-water rafting, downhill mountain biking, Pisco and wine tasting, and of course visiting the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu—a must for anyone visiting Peru.
So, some advice for anyone considering an overseas elective. Firstly, if you’re considering going to Peru - DO IT.
Secondly, make the most of your free time. There is plenty to do, so plan your weekends wisely. Make sure you join in with your housemates and enjoy your time in the wonderful country that is Peru.
Finally, go in with an open mind. Peruvian culture is unique, and you will be taken aback by some of the things you see. Though believe me, you’ll find many positives in local practises.
My placement with Work the World was an experience I’ll never forget. I grew so much, both as a person and as a clinician, as a result. I will be forever grateful! My time in Peru was, without a doubt, the best experience of my life.
Work the World specialises in tailoring overseas healthcare electives in Cambodia, Vietnam, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, Peru, Mexico, Nepal, Sri Lanka and The Philippines. Our destinations provide unique and exciting insight into healthcare systems across the developing world.