Arriving into the Arequipa airport as a lonely, nervous student was scary. But as soon as I saw a smiley member of the Work the World team waiting for me at the airport, all apprehension and uncertainty dissolved away.
The team took me straight to the Work the World house, which was located in a quiet residential neighborhood.
The first thing that struck me about the house was how modern and clean it was. There was a nice backyard with a hammock and swing, and an amazing rooftop area with beautiful views of Mount Misti—one of the three dormant volcanoes surrounding the city. Our rooms all had bunks, and I was lucky enough to share mine with a lovely British girl, who will remain a lifelong friend!
There were five students starting the programme at the same time as me. Once we had settled in, the team briefed us on what we could expect over the next three weeks. They explained the difficulties we might face in the hospital, like the low socioeconomic status of many patients and the lack of resources available in the hospital.
I saw, first hand, the lengths some patients went to to avoid conventional medical treatments, and instead persist with traditional herbal remedies
The hospital was visibly underfunded, but bursting with character. The level of care given to patients, and the professionalism of the health practitioners that worked there was second to none. I spent the first week in the Oncology Pharmacy, helping to prepare chemotherapy drugs, as well as doing the morning rounds with the doctors. I saw, first hand, the lengths some patients went to to avoid conventional medical treatments, and instead persist with traditional herbal remedies. This was especially obvious when it came to cancerous growths. One such patient had a 15kg growth on her hip.
I also spent some time in Internal Medicine. I supplied medicines to the wards, and observed patients suffering from a range of different conditions. The way in which doctors treated patients, despite the minimal resources available, was admirable. One particularly interesting thing about the Peruvian hospital system was the responsibility placed on the patient and their family. It was up to the patient or their family to go to the pharmacy to obtain and pay for all of the supplies and medicines needed for treatment. They would then return to the doctor to commence treatment. There was minimal government assistance in this healthcare environment, placing the financial burden squarely on the patient.
Spanish was a crucial skill on placement in Arequipa. Finding someone in the hospital who spoke English was rare. With that in mind, I highly recommend either taking part in Work the World’s week-long Intensive Spanish Course, or developing a robust vocabulary and grammar base in your home country.
I was also lucky enough to observe a mastectomy of a lady suffering from breast cancer. It was something I have never experienced before and probably never will again. It opened my eyes to the skill, precision and professionalism of surgeons.
Weekends were a great opportunity to explore both Arequipa and the surrounding areas. During the first weekend, we hiked down (and back up) Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. The following weekend, we went whitewater rafting and downhill mountain biking. On the Sunday, the whole Work the World house went on a Pisco Winery tour, which helped build some great friendships. At the end of my placement, I took a bus to Cusco and completed a five-day trek to Machu Picchu—one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
My pharmacy placement in Arequipa with Work the World was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It taught me skills that I will implement in both my career and my personal life. I highly recommend enquiring about a Work the World placement, they are an organized, helpful and professional organisation that make the whole experience effortless.