I’ve always wanted to see South America and I thought this was an excellent way to experience it. With Work the World I knew I would be getting an authentic experience of Peruvian culture as a result of being directly involved with the local people.
My first impressions of the placement hospital in Peru was that it was shockingly different from my experience of hospitals at home. Firstly, I could not believe how spread out the different hospital buildings were and how often doctors and nurses walk from one building to another. This is extremely different from hospitals at home in Canada. We have brutal winters and as the low temperatures affect Canada many months of the year, outdoor hospitals are not an option.
Additionally, the fact that all charting is done on paper was shocking to me. I did not see a single computer anywhere in the hospital, something that is vastly different from hospitals in Canada that have almost entirely transitioned to a digital system. I was also shocked by the level of sanitation I saw in the hospitals. It is extremely difficult for me to even fathom inserting an IV or changing bandages without proper sanitation and gloves, but in Arequipa, this happens frequently. This alarmed me slightly and was difficult for me to adjust to, but after my first few days, I came to realize the doctors and nurses are competent workers and are simply working with the resources that they have available.
Becoming accustomed to new traditions, practices, and cultures while in Peru has provided me with a very valuable perspective.
I developed the skill of practicing cultural competence and awareness which will certainly benefit my practice back home. Becoming accustomed to new traditions, practices, and cultures while in Peru has provided me with a very valuable perspective. I also developed my ability to chart with great depth. Seeing how doctors and nurses charted entirely on paper gave me an appreciation for the depth and detail they put into those charts. I have learnt to appreciate the importance of charting in a new way. Through this, I do believe I’ve become more resourceful and developed practical skills applicable to my profession.
The most memorable case I observed was a patient who came into the emergency room due to a venomous spider bite. In Canada we rarely see parasitic infections, spider bites, snake bites, and the like. So this was mind-blowing for me! To see the doctors and nurses respond with such calmness and composure as this is a relatively frequent occurrence in Peru was absolutely life-changing. Often when a parasitic infection or insect bite occurs in Canada, doctors have to carry out extensive research to discover how to treat it and also to discover how the infection or bite occurred in a climate which very few dangerous insects inhabit. Seeing that a deadly spider bite such as the one this patient suffered was a normal occurrence gave me a new perspective on just how different healthcare looks across different geographical regions.
To be frank, the biggest difference was simply the level of cleanliness and sanitary precautions taken. Protecting one’s self from blood-borne illnesses such as HIV or airborne infections such as TB was not treated in the same way as I would expect. Additionally, equipment was often not cleaned in the same way between patient uses, and patient beds and sheets were not changed as regularly. These differences, as previously mentioned, made me uncomfortable and shocked at first. My biggest mistake was to assume that in Peru healthcare workers just simply do not know the dangers of infection and therefore, are not taking necessary precautions to ensure sanitization. However, after spending two weeks in the hospital I adjusted my understanding. Staff here knew the dangers of cross infection. They simply didn't have the resources, time, funding, or equipment to incorporate the same precautions as we do. They are working with what they have and are still trying their best to keep locals as healthy as possible despite high rates of infection and disease transmission.
I had multiple conversations with staff in the hospital. The most memorable was the one I had with an emergency room doctor who spoke great English and allowed me to spend half the day with him discussing his training and the common cases and occurrences he saw on a daily basis. Another memorable conversation was with a head nurse in the ER. Both of these individuals informed me on the lifestyle of Peruvians, the climate, and the government laws and legislation which gave me insight into why some diseases and cases are so common. For example, I found that pregnancy-related infections for women are relatively high. Thanks to the head nurse, I learnt that abortion is completely illegal due to Peru’s Catholic values. Because of this, many women are performing their own abortions that are unsafe and lead to deadly infections and complications. This provided me with a new perspective and appreciation for the healthcare available in Canada.
I had a blast during the weekends and evenings! Evenings were often spent eating dinner, taking Spanish lessons, or watching Netflix (Peruvian Netflix is amazing – so many good movies and shows) to rest after a long day at the hospital. I grew very close to my housemates. We often watched a movie together after dinner or went out for pizza in the city.
On weekends, I often had the chance to catch up on sleep or go on an excursion with some of my housemates to do some sightseeing. Myself and three of my housemates went to Yura and hiked to a breathtaking waterfall and visited the hot springs. We also went to a football match in town.
an overseas placement will be the best thing you can do for yourself and your career.
My honest advice to anyone looking to undertake an overseas placement would be to just do it. After my placement with Work the World, I can honestly say that the experiences, perspectives, memories, and friendships that develop as a result of being overseas are worth the few worries you may have. As long as you plan ahead, are smart and proactive, an overseas placement will be the best thing you can do for yourself and your career. I am not the same person I was before I embarked on my journey with Work the World. I can assure you that you won’t be either!