Guest Blog Post: Silvio Martinez “UF in Cusco: Life Lessons in Study Abroad”
This week's guest blogger is Silvio Martinez. Silvio is a sophomore public health major in the College of Public Health and Health Professions.
Hiking Machu Picchu, cooking Lomo Saltado and tasting Ceviche, learning about infectious diseases in the Americas, visiting ancient Incan sites, becoming part Peruvian with my host family, and making unforgettable friendships with fellow Gators—all from studying abroad in Cusco this summer! Above all, I gained a unique insight into the medical field while working at a healthcare center for the poor, which has further motivated me to pursue Doctors without Borders. I would like to share the tremendous impacts of studying abroad, along with my experiences volunteering in a Peruvian healthcare center.
Studying abroad in service-learning is invaluable: there is no better way to explore your passions than through a direct, unique experience in a new country. Dr. Gehu, a physician I shadowed, taught me how to differentiate and treat various diseases, use stethoscopes and blood pressure monitors, and how to be an effective physician for low-income patients. I also shadowed a nurse obstetrician, named Elena, who has the job of walking out into the poor community to treat disadvantaged pregnant women and babies. Elena said she loved her work—she had done it for 23 years—and I could see how her patients filled her with joy and a smile. Volunteering with Elena and doctors, I realized the great obstacles patients face in healthcare, and how I could see myself helping them with a similar passion. Previously, I had an idea about working with Doctors without Borders; however, it was not until I actually conversed with poor patients, experienced scary and bloody treatments, and lived with the lack of resources that I affirmed my goals. After experiencing unthinkable problems in healthcare (which are detailed in the next paragraph) that I would not see at UF, I discovered a passion for improving public health in developing areas. I even took a “random” elective with an Epidemiology professor, and am now involved with his research to reduce the transmissibility of diseases like Dengue. Studying abroad opened my horizons and provided a clear new path towards pursuing my passions.
While volunteering at the Santa Rosa healthcare center, I learned of challenges that one would almost never see in a clinic in the US. For an entire week the healthcare center had no running water. When emergencies came, the doctors had to go to the nearest outside market to wash their hands before treating the patients—a 10 minute delay! Additionally, Santa Rosa barely has money for medical supplies, receiving less than $1000 annually—purely from local donations—so most of their equipment is scarce and out of date. To highlight a few issues, the Obstetrics unit for pregnant women shares one Doppler between 3 rooms, the entire 4-story building has only one computer with Wi-Fi, there are only 2 scales (one cracked and almost unreadable), and their work desks are cracked and old. One nurse told me about a male technician who had a heart attack in Santa Rosa, and they were in need of an oxygen tank to sustain him for the long ride to the hospital. Because they lacked a simple oxygen mask, the man died on the way, and there was nothing they could do about it. In many situations, having access to simple resources can make the difference between a patient’s life and death.
Because of the issues I observed in this underfunded healthcare center, I have started a fundraiser to give the inspiring, dedicated medical staff new equipment. Below, I have included a link to my GoFundMe account, where you can donate $5-10 and share with friends—in truth, a little donation will make a huge difference. Just $100 can provide a blood pressure monitor, 2 scales, 200 gauze pads, soap, and 100 gloves (check out the full story on the website!). Please consider helping the medical staff that work relentlessly, despite the poverty, to give their patients great healthcare.
In the end, I hope my study abroad experience has taught you a little about healthcare issues abroad along with the importance of having an international experience in college. After studying abroad, I feel like a more defined, focused individual. I have changed my major to Public Health, begun research in epidemiology with my study abroad professor, extended my international network to include Peruvian physicians and medical students, made amazing new friends at UF studying Pre-Med, and deepened my passion for medicine and helping the less fortunate. If you can study abroad, seize the opportunity: it is your once-in-a-lifetime chance in college to explore your passions and have the time of your life!
Please learn more about Santa Rosa: gofundme.com/silvioincusco