As an undergraduate student aspiring to go to medical school, I am always looking for opportunities to gain experience in the healthcare field, and the medical volunteer project with Projects Abroad was the greatest experience I have had so far. I chose Mexico because I was familiar with the Spanish language (very useful for the placement) and the culture from my parents, but I had no idea how amazingly different volunteering in another country would be.
The moment that I stepped out of the airport in Guadalajara, Mexico, a very friendly member of staff from Projects Abroad was there to pick me up and take me to my equally kind host family. They treated me like they had known me their entire lives, and I felt very welcome there.
My medical placement in Mexico
My placement was in the emergency ward of a small hospital named “Cruz Verde Ruíz Sánchez.” My time there was like nothing that I had experienced before. Unlike any of the volunteer work that I had done in hospitals in the United States, where the employees tended to treat volunteers as secretaries, the doctors and nurses at my placement encouraged me to be hands on and learn as much as possible.
They were always more than happy to tell me what was wrong with any patient that came in, and what their plan for treating them would be, which was always very interesting. They even allowed me to assist with treatments, which was definitely a new and exciting experience for me. Being in a hospital with other volunteers from Projects Abroad and medical students was also a big help, because the doctors knew that we were there to learn, and were always eager to help us out in any way that they could.
Every few days the surgeons would tell us about surgeries that were scheduled for the day, and would allow us to get into the operating room with them to watch them work. The operating room was where I got to meet some of the most interesting people during my time at the hospital. One of the anaesthesiologists in particular was very friendly to me and another volunteer. He often took us under his wing during surgeries, teaching us the names of all of the surgical tools, telling us what was happening at each stage of the operation, and even giving us an in depth lesson as to how the ECG worked, and what each number and line on the monitor represented.
One of the most exciting experiences during the time I spent in my placement was during an operation in which a metal plate was to be removed from a patient’s leg, and then replaced. Before the operation started, the nurses, who were very amicable, brought cake for everyone to eat before entering the surgical room. After eating, they brought us some foam and suture equipment to practice our suturing. Once we were done, they put on some music and tried to teach the volunteers how to salsa dance; it was so much fun!
During the start of the operation, I was allowed to help operate the x-ray machine to give the surgeons a view of the bone they were working on. Once they no longer needed the x-ray machine, they offered me the chance to help them during the surgery, which I was thrilled to do. They taught me how to scrub in to surgery, and how to put on the surgical coat without contaminating it, and then placed me at a spot right next to the surgeon. It was amazing being able to see the procedure from so close, and seeing how the surgeons used each of the different tools.
I came into my medical placement knowing nearly nothing about medicine other than the fact that I wanted one day to work in the field, and I left knowing exactly what branch of surgery I want to specialise in. It was one of the best experiences that I have had in my life, and I would highly suggest anyone interested in the medical field to participate in a volunteer project, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The experience that I gained from my time with Projects Abroad will definitely aid me in pursuing a medical degree, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.