Medicine & Healthcare in Bolivia by Chris Jones
I am an 18 year old potential medical student from the east of England, who wanted to gain some medical experience as well as travel to different parts of the world during my gap year. I chose Projects Abroad because they allowed me to combine gaining medical experience with travelling, as well as providing an all inclusive package allowing me to concentrate on my exams in January.
I chose to go to Bolivia in South America and was working in El Centro de Salud in Sarcobamba, on the outskirts of the city. The host family I was placed with was very welcoming, caring and understanding. They provided me with everything that I needed to be happy and comfortable, and so did the staff from Projects Abroad. The house I was living in was in close proximity to my placement so it was always easy to get to work quickly.
Cochabamba is a beautiful city in the middle of a valley surrounded by mountains providing a perfect backdrop to work. This location of the city also allows for perfect weather, warm and sunny everyday. As a tourist there isn't much to do but when you are living there you get to know the city so well and you are never bored. As for the location of my health clinic, it was perfect; a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus journey.
On my first day I was introduced to all the staff, who all greeted me with a big smile and something in Spanish, which although I didn't understand I'm sure it was very welcoming! The language barrier was a slight problem at first but the doctors and nurses were always very clear in what they wanted me to do, and after a week or two you know all the basic vocabulary you need for work, so everything went pretty smoothly.
My basic duties were being based in the enfermeria, which is where the patients go before they see the doctor. We would measure their height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, and when our Spanish was good enough we could have a brief chat and find out where the problem was etc. in addition to this the clinic regularly runs vaccination campaigns in local schools or for rabies amongst the local animal population. The volunteers, whatever placement you are doing, always played a big part in administering the vaccines. At the end of my placement I would sit in with the paediatrician, observing and checking breathing and heartbeats.
In general I had very few difficulties during my placement in Bolivia. There were no problems at home with my family. Initially at work the language barrier was a bit of a problem, but the language is very easy to learn and I picked it up quickly. Occasionally you would encounter a worried parent who made things a bit more difficult by not wanting you to take certain measurements, but the nurses would always be there to smooth things over. After 10 weeks of working just in the enfermeria I asked to do something else and the last week I was able to sit with the doctor and her patients so that allowed things to finish on a high.
I feel that I have gained a lot of experience from my placement, which will be very useful to me in the future. I have learnt several new things; at work and about Bolivian culture. In addition I also feel like I have educated a few people about my life in England. I've been really impressed with the running of the Projects Abroad placements here, I have felt safe at all times and have made many new friends, amongst the volunteers, staff and locals.