Experience abroad is an extremely influential tool that should be part of every medical student’s instruction. Seeing other countries’ healthcare systems helps us understand our own system in a new light; a further perspective can actually bring things more in focus. I love traveling and exploring new cultures, so I jump on any opportunity to do that while also learning and practicing medicine. I wanted to go to Mexico because I wanted to work on my medical Spanish and there was an established program there already. I want to be able to connect with the Mexican patients here in Chicago, and going to experience Mexican culture while improving my Spanish abroad was a great way to do so.
In terms of my career aspirations, I hope to practice healthcare in an underserved setting and give care to those who are most in need of it. Seeing some of the work physicians and community health workers do in Puerto Escondido has solidified this goal of mine. I am inspired by individuals who do the work they do in an effort to improve the lives of others, rather than for material gain or personal prestige.
During the trip, we spent time in community health clinics, the local hospital, and also a week with midwives from the region who were in town for a recertification workshop. The most meaningful experience I had was our last week when we worked with the midwives. We ran the curriculum and taught things like normal labor, warning signs, prenatal care, etc. However, in most cases the midwives had had much more time with mothers and babies than we did in terms of deliveries and practical experience. As a result, the week was an interesting collaboration between their practical experience and our scientific knowledge, and both the midwives and ourselves were able to share our respective expertise with the other group. We even were able to hear (and feel) about some of their traditional medicine techniques such as massage.
While the Mexican healthcare system doesn’t have the amount of resources that we have in the United States, there are many great things about the public oportunidades program that we saw while there. The system in Mexico is highly focused on preventative care, which is the most financially viable and effective delivery system in spite of the resource limited settings. Patients receive financial incentives to come to the clinic every month for check-ins and the system is linked to education and food programs for children and mothers. Preventative medicine is the model of the future for the United States, and we have a lot to learn from the way care is delivered in places like Puerto Escondido.