Physician assistant students complete clinical rotations in Peru
Bailey T. Bachman, of Lewistown; Megan N. Heckman, of Spring Mills; and Valerie L. Kubalak, also of Spring Mills, were the first Penn College physician assistant students to complete clinical rotations outside of the United States.
“It made me realize that here, we take a lot of medical care for granted,” Bachman said.
That realization came about when Trujillo residents expressed sincere gratefulness for what Bachman would consider basic acts: checking their blood pressure (while, she noted, in the U.S., residents have free access to blood pressure checkers in stores) or providing drops for dry eyes.
“They just appreciate everything you say,” she said.
The students spent their mornings at their assigned hospitals, their lunch break with their host family and their afternoons in the Medical Electives language school.
Bachman and Kubalak were stationed in the 320-bed regional teaching hospital, El Regional, where they completed their obstetrics and gynecology clinical rotation. Located near the city center, it is one of the largest hospitals in northern Peru and sees 1,600 outpatients per day. The government-funded hospital provides comprehensive service for those with the least resources, and this is reflected in the limited resources of the hospital itself, Medical Electives literature notes.
While there, Bachman and Kubalak were able to witness several natural births and cesarean sections, while most of their classmates completing obstetrics and gynecology rotations in the U.S. did not see any births.
“It was amazing for us to have this opportunity in women’s health,” Kubalak said.
Heckman completed a family practice clinical rotation at the Tier 4 Hospital I Albrecht. (Tier 4 is the highest-level hospital in the government-backed health system.) Under the preceptorship of Dr. Freddy Cabrera, she spent most days doing the typical outpatient work of a family medicine practitioner, but also spent time on the hospital’s inpatient floor and in the emergency room.
“One of the biggest things (I learned in Peru) that will affect my future care for patients is education,” Heckman said. “A lot of what I did was educating patients on ‘what do you really have’ and ‘how does that work.’ They were so thankful. Patient education is a very important part of health care in the U.S. All my patients were so thankful to understand why they were told to do something. I would love to go back and see whether it made a difference.”
Once a week, Bachman, Heckman and Kubalak joined their eight other Medical Electives classmates, along with doctors who teach in the city’s medical school, in completing community health campaigns. Two of these occurred in pop-up tents to provide basic medical treatment to anyone who approached them. In one case, the students went to a nearby park to let those there know about the fair.
“(Those who came) usually would have many problems,” Bachman said of the patients, who were typically those who did not have regular access to medical care.
“We saw around 50 patients in four to six hours,” Kubalak said.
They also participated in a health campaign at a men’s prison and one at a women’s prison, where in addition to women, they cared for babies, who are allowed to stay with their mothers in prison up to the age of 3.
During their daily language school sessions, the students learned conversational Spanish, medical Spanish and Spanish grammar.
“Not only did we have to learn enough language to get around town, but we relearned medical terminology, which is like a different language in itself,” Bachman smiled. “It was so challenging, yet rewarding.”
“For me, the main takeaway was the cultural experience,” said Kubalak, who sees medical mission work in her future. “It was so different from here. It makes me thankful for the little things: the nice roads, the way traffic flows. … It opened my eyes to how different other people’s lives are and how lucky we are.”
“It was a really unforgettable month,” Bachman added. “I would do it all again tomorrow.”
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– Photos courtesy of Valerie L. Kubalak
The students congregate with a group of locals.
Kubalak, Heckman and Bachman spent four weeks in the coastal town of Trujillo, where it was winter but the weather was pleasant.
On weekends, the students made excursions, including a trip to Lagoon 69 in Huaraz. “It was a four-hour hike up the mountain to over 4,000 kilometers!” Kubalak explains. “So cool.”
From left, Heckman, Kubalak and Bachman accept their certificates upon completion of their medical Spanish immersion experience.
Students gather following a medical campaign in El Milagro, part of the Trujillo urban area. The group saw 53 patients during the event, which mainly served those who did not have regular access to medical care.