As a third-year biology and Spanish double major at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, I had been interested in travelling abroad for quite some time. My studies in the Spanish language and the culture of Latin America had peaked my interest in Argentina and when Project Abroad’s medical internship was brought to my attention, I knew it would be the perfect fit for me. Although I was initially hesitant to travel alone internationally for the first time ever, I knew that this opportunity would be a unique experience that not only caters to both my biology and Spanish specialties, but would allow to me grow as an individual.
My Medical Placement
After spending my first two days at the maternity hospital, I was permanently placed at the Hospital Pediátrico del Niño Jesús just two streets away from my accommodation. The location was perfect for me, after work I could walk out the doors and catch a quick bus ride to the Projects Abroad office or downtown.
Hospital Pediátrico del Niño Jesús is one of the biggest hospitals in the area and it offers several areas of specialty. I was fortunate enough to work in the consultations, dermatology, kinesiology and surgery departments. After my initial tour of the facilities, I quickly learnt my way around the hospital. The staff was extremely friendly and open to all my questions. They even went out of their way to explain certain cases to me even when I didn’t ask. I looked forward to going to the hospital every day and the doctors always welcomed me to stay as long as I wanted.
The hospital didn’t have me on any kind of strict schedule, but I liked to show up in the morning when the department I worked in for that week opened. Each department is different, but I would show up as early as 7:30am to as late as 9:00am.
Around lunchtime I would walk home to enjoy a home cooked meal and then return to the hospital if I didn’t have a Spanish class to attend. During my week in consultations, I observed the doctor as she met with each patient. I was free to ask any questions and after each appointment, the doctor would explain to me the case and ask if I had any questions.
Due to some previous experience in shadowing paediatricians in the United States, I was fairly familiar with work done in this department. However, I was still fascinated in the cultural differences and in the way the doctor communicated with her patients. She was very genuine and caring and acted in the same manner towards me. After my first week was over, I wanted to spend more time in the consultations but my desire to learn attracted me more to the dermatology department.
When I was first assigned to the dermatology department I didn’t think it sounded very interesting. In the United States we have the impression that dermatologists deal largely with cases of acne and nothing more. On my first day, I met every single doctor on staff in the department and got right to work with a pair of doctors fresh out of medical school. They were eager to explain each case to me thoroughly.
They all made me feel welcomed, so much so that I stayed an extra three days in the department just because I enjoyed it so much. I found the dermatology department surprisingly interesting and saw a variety of conditions, including acne, syphilis, contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, syphilis, scabies, performed biopsies and more. By the end of my time in the dermatology department, I genuinely felt that I had made new friends in the doctors I met.
My next two days were spent in the kinesiology department where children went for breathing treatments performed to extract the liquid from their lungs due to bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. Again, I found the doctors very friendly and willing to let me get hands on experience by allowing me to listen to the children’s breathing before and after the treatment, explaining the difference in the sounds, and allowing me to hold the children during the procedure.
The last department I was assigned to was surgery. Aside from the various TV shows about surgeons, this area was completely new and unknown to me. After making rounds to all of the patients scheduled for surgery on that given day, the doctors, and one other volunteer and I gathered in the office to discuss each surgery. Once we were all informed on the patient and their condition, we proceeded to the operating room to change clothes and enter into surgery.
During my days in surgery, I was allowed to stand in on numerous surgeries and see first-hand how the doctors performed appendectomies, exploratory surgeries, biopsies and other procedures. Although this department required that the doctors have a much higher level of focus when interacting with the patients, they continued to make sure we had a clear view of what was going on and often explained the procedure before and after surgeries.
During my four weeks in the hospital, I was able to see and experience more than I could have ever imagined and more than I had in the past three years of undergraduate studies. I was very thankful for the generosity shown by the staff at the hospital!
When I wasn’t at the hospital I spent a lot of time with my host mum, Cuca. Prior to my arrival in Argentina, I was very nervous about my accommodation - I had no idea what to expect! However, since the moment I met Cuca, she welcomed me warmly and made me feel at home. She was extremely kind and always made sure I had whatever I needed.
Not only did she cook amazing meals for me every day, she even taught me some of her recipes to take back home with me. Although I enjoyed staying at home with her, she always encouraged me to go out and explore all that Argentina has to offer. She truly made me feel like one of her daughters and taught me so much during my short stay. Even today, I continue to keep in touch with her via Facebook and she continues to encourage me to return to Argentina to visit her. Cuca was a big part of the unforgettable experience that I will forever hold close to my heart.
Following Cuca’s advice, I made sure to attend the various social events held at the Projects Abroad office, including karaoke, tango lessons and exploring other cities in Argentina, including Buenos Aires, Alta Gracia, Carlos Paz and more.
I experienced zip lining in the mountains, the museum at Che Guevara’s house, the history and nightlife of Buenos Aires, paddle boating in Carlos Paz, horseback riding in the mountains of La Cumbre, exploring La Cumbrecita and sightseeing at as many of the major main attractions Argentina had to offer. There was never a dull moment; I was constantly in touch with the Projects Abroad staff and all the volunteers I met, making plans to embark on new adventures every day.
When I initially signed up for Projects Abroad, I thought a four-week programme sounded like a really long time away from home. However, the time flew by way too fast! If I could go back, the one thing I would change is the duration of my stay. I fell in love with Argentina and all the amazing people I met and the friends I made there. I only wish I could have stayed a lot longer and I plan to return again one day.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.