Ecuador – Medical Internship, Multi-lingual Experience – by Dan DeLestry. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
This is a photo of the “Hospital de Padre Carollo,” the site of my internship.
As of today I have been living in Ecuador for one month and nine days, the longest period of time that I have ever lived in a different country; and with that time I have come to feel more acclimated to the environment and culture around me. Lately, I have been feeling optimistic, confident, and open to new experiences.
One of our classes in Ecuador is an internship at an institution that suites our interests. As a result of my life experiences and who I am as a person, my interests lie in human medicine and healing. Fortunately, I received an internship at the Hospital of Father Carollo, a volunteer run hospital that provides all sorts of hospital services at very little to no cost to the patients; the perfect fit for me. My internship at the hospital is dynamic, each week I am placed in a different area so that I can gain experience within all sectors of the hospital. The new environment each week is never too difficult, because my new experiences build off of my previous experiences in other areas of the hospital. My first placement was in a pediatric patient preparation room, and I had the responsibility of entering every patient’s weight, height, and head perimeter measurements into the computer system. I was baptized by fire for this task, because I quickly learned there is a perpetual influx of patients from 8:30am when my shift starts, to 12:30pm when my shift ends. However, I learned quickly and soon became well versed in my Spanish language numerical knowledge after listening and entering in numbers every morning. Later, I was moved to the first floor patient preparation room where I learned to take blood pressure, because I would be working with older patients. I then spent my time at work measuring patient’s height, weight, and blood pressure, along with entering those numbers into the computer system. Finally, I was moved to the second floor patient preparation room, which consisted of the same tasks, along with asking the patients a few extra questions before they were prepped for surgery.
My time at the hospital has been an immensely valuable experience for me. My goal is to become a bilingual physician so that I can serve both English and Spanish speaking patients alike, and this internship is providing me with the perfect opportunity to improve my Spanish in the healthcare setting. I feel very grateful that I have been given the opportunity that I have.
The hospital has also made me more aware of my inherent privilege as a white person in society and how that can change the way people see me. Here is an example: every day there is at least one, usually two or more patients that will come into the patient preparation room, see me there in my unlabeled white coat working on the computer, and address me as “Doctor.” This always makes the nurse assistants in the room chuckle and it makes me blush. I then make sure to tell the patient that I am a student working in the hospital to learn, but certainly not a physician. Many patients treat me as if I were a physician: they ask my opinion on their blood pressure, tell me about some health complications that their loved ones are experiencing and ask for my advice, and seem to see me as someone larger than who I am. These experiences are uncomfortable for me, because I am just a human, and I am no different that all of the nurse assistants in the same office. In fact, the nurse assistants in my office know far more about the hospital than I do, and I direct 88% of questions that I receive towards them, because I either do not understand the question, or do not know the answer (I used to direct 100% of the questions towards them, so I can tell I am making at least a bit of progress in my Spanish).
The only reason that some patients sometimes treat me with more respect than the nursing assistants in the same room of the hospital is because of my physical attributes that label me as someone who is probably from North America or Europe. This has been something that makes me feel uncomfortable at my internship, and more than anything, I wonder how it makes the nursing assistants feel who are working in the same office. I am going to leave this question open, because I do not believe that I could truly understand the way they feel without being put into the same situation. It is very likely that I may continue to ponder this question forever, because working towards the answer will help me understand the way people understand each other; and I believe it will help make me a better person too.
Dan is serving as The North Star Reports’ special correspondent in Ecuador this semester.
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