Robert Wozniak - Medicine in Argentina
My experience in Córdoba, Argentina as a medical intern facilitated my development as a student and as an individual who has a passion for serving diverse populations. Being independent in an unfamiliar city, speaking a different language throughout each day, and immersing myself in a uniquely beautiful culture pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best ways possible.
Although there were a few times when I was slightly confused or nervous, I learned to maintain my poise, embrace every new opportunity, and enjoy each second of the experience. My summer internship allowed me to gain a better understanding of South America, different healthcare systems, and who I want to be in the future, and it changed the way I look at my life and the lives of others.
My Medicine placement
I specifically chose to work with Projects Abroad because of their holistic approach to aiding developing countries, where they offer projects in various fields of work. Throughout my internship with Projects Abroad, all of the coordinators and volunteers were kind, welcoming, and supportive. Everyone working at the Córdoba location is passionate about the community, making a difference, and embracing the incredible opportunities that Argentina has to offer.
For the majority of my work, I shadowed physicians and residents at the Hospital Universitario de Maternidad y Neonatología, a public hospital in the centre of the city that serves expecting mothers and infants. A typical day in the hospital consisted of shadowing live births, caesarean sections, hysterectomies, mastectomies, and other surgical procedures.
I also assisted doctors and residents during their consultations with expecting mothers by helping take medical histories and preparing equipment. Working in the obstetrics and gynaecology departments opened my eyes to a completely different side of medicine that I have not experienced before, and I have realised that it is truly a privilege to work with expecting mothers.
As an additional part of my Projects Abroad Medical Internship, I participated in outreach work in economically disadvantaged areas of the city. For example, after three infants in a small, disadvantaged neighbourhood died due to bronchiolitis, the other medical interns and I completed a health education campaign on respiratory illnesses for the parents in the community.
We explained the background of respiratory illnesses, their symptoms, and how both the children and adults can use preventative measures to avoid disease transmission. We also had a discussion group with several mothers in the community, who explained how the tragedy affected the community and how they want to work to improve their health system. Hearing their stories and offering them information was definitely an unforgettable experience, as it opened my eyes to the realities of the world, the lack of awareness around some illnesses, and how a little information can go a long way.
Projects Abroad also allowed me to take part in some of the human rights activities that they organise each week. Through the “Re-encontrarte” programme, which provides services to the homeless community in Córdoba, other volunteers and I cooked food and made enormous pots of mate (a hot tea beverage) before they arrived, and then we served them inside a church.
After socialising and serving the food and mate, we provided various mediums of art so they could spend time singing, playing guitar, reading literature, drawing, or painting. Having the opportunity to speak with some of the homeless community and have a positive impact on their lives was truly a special experience.
There are also monthly community service projects in which Projects Abroad partners with another local organisation to help the city of Córdoba and its people. For the July project, I participated in an environmental conservation movement in response to the massive deforestation that has taken place in and around Córdoba. This deforestation has had numerous environmental and socioeconomic consequences.
I attended a meeting at the Fundación de Córdoba Todos headquarters, listened to presentations by people that fight for these issues in the province, and planted twenty trees in the main park of Córdoba as a statement against deforestation. It was inspiring to become more familiar with problems that are affecting the Córdoba community and environment, while also helping another important organisation reach their objectives.
My host family
My accommodation and the relationships that I formed while in Argentina were absolutely unforgettable. As soon as I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by my host mom, Maria Elena, and some of my housemates. I lived in a quaint, three-story complex in the centre of the city that offered everything I could possibly need.
Because each volunteer had a different start and end date, I had various housemates from all over the world throughout my internship. For most of my meals, I ate at home with my host mom and housemates, eating delicious, freshly cooked Argentine cuisine and discussing each of our unique experiences from that day.
My free time
As I usually did not work on weekends, I had time to travel around Córdoba and to other provinces of Argentina to obtain a more holistic view of the country. In the beautiful city of Mendoza at the foot of the Andes mountain range, I toured vineyards and hiked through forests. In Capilla del Monte, a small town outside of Córdoba, I climbed Cerro Uritorco, the highest peak of the Sierras Chicas mountain range. In the northern provinces of Salta and Jujuy, I visited enormous salt flats and explored picturesque towns in the middle of the mountains.
I also visited one of the natural wonders of the world at Iguazu Falls, on the border of Brazil and Argentina. Having the opportunity to see different parts of Argentina was integral to my understanding of the country and these experiences taught me that each province has its own distinct accent, life, and culture that are well-worth appreciating and embracing.
After being back in the United States for a couple weeks and readjusting to American culture, I am already missing my favourite places and the friends I made in the beautiful country of Argentina. The night before I left, I was astounded when my group of Argentine friends threw me a surprise goodbye dinner party.
Getting to know younger people in Argentina not only allowed me to form friendships that I will always cherish, but it allowed me to comfortably ask questions and familiarise myself with many issues that I would not have felt as comfortable asking others about. My local friends provided me with a well-rounded view of Argentine life that supplemented my medical internship in a very unique way. They also helped me improve my Spanish drastically, and having a balance between the formal setting of my hospital workplace and casually speaking with my friends provided me with a more complete perspective on the Spanish language.
My overall experience
Reflecting on my trip as a whole, I am so grateful for my summer internship and I have become a much more independent, open-minded, and self-aware human being. Every part of my time in Argentina was wonderful, including my accommodation, internship, outreach work, and travel experiences. I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity, and I am excited to move forward in my future with more drive and a better understanding of what I want to do and who I want to be in life.