Medicine & Healthcare in Mexico by Domenica Giovannini
As a college graduate, my first objective was to experience the world. As a native Californian who had never travelled to Mexico, I knew a trip to our neighbouring country would be perfect. I chose to travel to Mexico to do a full language and cultural immersion. While planning my trip I was excited, anxious and nervous, but nothing could have prepared me for the amazing experience I was about to have.
I arrived in Guadalajara in the late afternoon and was greeted by the enthusiastic and welcoming Projects Abroad staff. I couldn’t unglue my eyes from the bustling roads and excitement around me. Mexico did not evoke any sense of culture shock or timid feelings. In fact, during the bus ride to Ciudad Guzman, where I was to be placed for a month, I noticed a terrain that was almost familiar and comfortable. Ciudad Guzman is a beautiful city set at the foot of a small mountain range. It was busy and large, but I felt safe.
I was happy to learn I would have roommate from France. She was excited to get assistance with her English and I was happy to get personal help with my Spanish (which was a little rusty). My host mom Gina welcomed us to her home with open arms and a smile easing some of my anxious energy. The first few days were full of excitement visiting all the landmarks in Ciudad Guzman. I visited Hospital Regional De Ciudad Guzman where both Chloe and I would be placed for the month. I was also introduced to a handful of other volunteers from all over the world doing various programs in Ciudad Guzman.
When I arrived at 7:00am on my first day at the hospital I was placed in surgery. Hospital Regional was a small facility of about 30 beds and provided service for both Ciudad Guzman and surrounding cities. I really had no idea what was in a store for me. At first it was hard to get used to the hospital which was different from what I was used to; strong smells, hot rooms, a crowded emergency room, and trauma patients took some time to get used to.
However, once comfortable, everything from scrubbing into surgery and assisting in child birth were highlights of my next month. I will leave out details for those with a timid stomach, but for me working in surgery was fascinating. I learned to suture, administer newborn immunizations, assisted in routine, emergency, and orthopaedic surgery, and discovered the medical issues prominent amongst the population served. The medical program was vigorous and a lot of hours a week, but a priceless introduction to the medical field.
The interns quickly accepted me not only as a valuable volunteer, but as one of their own. I was not a “gringa” in their eyes. The doctors asked me to translate medical terminology to English to refine their skills and encouraged their interns to seek assistance with their English. Although they were providing me with the most amazing experience of my life, they too thanked me for my presence. I was asked to provide a lecture on hospitals and the insurance system in the United States which evoked much conversation and questions. I was happy to give back a comparative analysis of my experience in the US and in Mexico. I never expected to provoke so much interest.
While in Mexico I took a trip the local summer school program to the zoo in Guadalajara. I went with another Projects Abroad volunteer from England who was working with the summer school. It was nice to take a break from the hospital and spend time with a large group of children. I got to share in their excitement to feed the giraffes and see the hippos. I was also invited to a beautiful hot spring with a group of medical interns. I was able to soak up the natural hot springs and relax after a long week at work. It was nice to feel I had friends after only being in Mexico for a few weeks.
When it was time to leave, I had to force myself to say goodbye to my new home. Although the first couple weeks were times on adjustment and homesickness, Ciudad Guzman became my home. I had become friends with the medical interns from the hospital and other Projects Abroad volunteers. I’m sure my host mom will always remember me as a volunteer who loved to eat and since returning to the United States I greatly miss her cooking! I knew I was going to miss her and my host family.
I returned to the United States with a great appreciation for the medical facilities and technology I have access to. I also set a personal goal to return to Mexico when I complete medical school to give back to the community who had provided me with such an amazing experience. Despite the financial struggle in Mexico, I have much respect for the medical staff based on their valiant efforts to use what they have to provide for their communities. After my family spent months trying to convince me to go to another country (because of swine flu and violence fears), they knew upon my return I made the right choice for myself.
My best advice for volunteers is to not to be afraid of your placement city. Always keep an open mind and do background research on the area in order to be culturally sensitive upon placement. The best experiences will come from detachment from home and acceptance of this new and exciting home. This experience is deep in my heart as one of the most amazing I have ever had. It was truly life changing.