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A Medical Studentís Experience In Guatemala

I benefited from my involvement in the medical mission to Guatemala in multiple ways. If I searched for a lifetime I couldnít have found an experience that encompassed my two major interests in life so perfectly;  Medicine and Architecture. As first an Architect and now a medical student I had the opportunity to experience the medical mission in Guatemala from two very different yet equally fascinating and heart warming perspectives.  

After finishing my degree in Architecture and a three internship, I decided to peruse my lifelong dream to study and practice medicine.  I am finding my medical studies to be both intense and enlightening. However, I am somewhat disappointed  at how much governmental policies and public opinion overwhelm the field of medicine today. I find this to be confusing and disheartening. It is not hard to see how in this environment a doctor could forget what the profession is all about i.e. providing health care for those in need. While in Guatemala we cared for children in need. There was no talk of health care reform, insurance, HMOís, provider taxes, malpractice, Medicaid, Medicare, just a medical team of individuals working together to provide the best possible care to as many children as possible with the resources available.

Imagine an place where patients travel great distances and wait for days to be seen by a doctor, and then consider themselves fortunate to be seen at all. Imagine a place where after all the distance traveled and all the time wasted a patient is turned away (due to the lack of appropriated facilities in which to care for their complex disease) and rather than being angry he/she warmly thanks the doctor for taking the time to see his/her child at all.  Imagine a place where patients place all their confidence, trust and hope in a doctor who can not even speak their language. Imagine a place where rather than demanding and suspicious a patient is trusting and thankful to a doctor for trying to help. Imagine a place where physicians worry about giving the best possible care to his/her patient rather than worrying about the legal implication of  each decision made. Imagine a place where physicians, nurses and support staff all work together helping each other with the single common focus being, the health and well-being of  the child before them. This is the practice of medicine I experienced in Guatemala.

 Although I have a long road ahead of me I will never forget the families who traveled for days to be seen by physicians they had never met. I will never forget the doctors, nurses and support staff who at their own expense volunteered their time to work day and night just for the simple satisfaction of seeing the smiles on the faces of the small children and the warm hugs of their appreciative parents. This trip will forever influence me in my studies and my practice of medicine. No matter how difficult or confusing the future of medicine will be my experience in Guatemala has strengthened my lifelong dream to study and practice medicine.


                                                                                                                                                Charlotte Stengel

                                                                                                                                                Medical Student,Volunteer

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Last Updated: February 06, 2008