Erik Dove is a senior in the Honors College at Oregon State University, pursuing degrees in Biology and International Studies with minors in Chemistry and Spanish. He works as an International Ambassador for the International Degree and Education Abroad (IDEA) office. In Spring 2013, Erik participated in a medical internship in Quito, Ecuador, through Child Family Health International and IE3 Global Internships.
I recently returned from a ten week medical internship in Quito and Chone, Ecuador, through IE3 Global Internships. IE3 partners with Child Family Health International, an organization that connects local and international health professionals to conduct community health projects and global health education programs. My internship took place in clinics and hospitals in two cities, offering a comparative perspective on the health care available in urban and rural settings. Our curriculum consisted of daily clinical rotations and Spanish classes, yet offered ample free time to explore the cities and travel on weekends. On a professional level, this internship exposed me to differences in clinical care, ethics, and health education, stemming from the distinct cultural identity of the Ecuadorian people.
I lived with a host family throughout the ten week program. This opened up the door to cultural experiences to which I would not have otherwise been exposed. Our house was located in downtown Quito and was a quick walk to the bus stop, where I could access all parts of the city for twenty five cents. My host family was also able to give me advice on places to visit, activities to do, and foods to try. Additionally, my Spanish speaking skills were greatly improved by living with the family, as it forced me to practice my Spanish continuously.
I chose this particular internship site because it offered the chance to gain valuable clinical and language experience. A personal goal of mine is to become proficient in Spanish, so living with a host family and taking language classes as a part of the program contributed to the immersive experience I was looking for. During clinical rotations, we learned treatment practices, conducted patient interviews, and assisted physicians when necessary. An added benefit was that it exposed me to societal and cultural aspects applicable to my undergraduate thesis, which focuses on public health issues in Ecuadorian populations.
For me, the most valuable component of the CFHI internship was the opportunity to develop skills necessary to communicate with patients of a diverse culture. These skills are a vital element of being able to deliver effective care as a health professional. Throughout the program, my program peers and I witnessed the importance of considering each patient’s values, beliefs, and ideals. An individual’s cultural background may influence the attitude they have towards medicine, their physician, and their understanding of health. For example, during the time I spent in the Emergency department of the rural city of Chone, a patient was rushed in with a poisonous snake bite. Upon arriving, his forearm was blackened and enormously swollen. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, his friend explained that he had been bitten almost 5 hours previously, but had initially sought treatment from a medicine man rather than the hospital. Due to his delay in seeking professional treatment, he was sent into surgery for amputation. This incident represents the challenges health professionals face when treating individuals with varying levels of health awareness. Consequently, health care workers who are sensitive to cultural issues are able to provide a higher level of care for their patients. The internship experience offered the opportunity to develop my language and cross-cultural skills, and provided the necessary education to enhance clinical experiences.
An additional advantage of the internship was the exposure to a variety of medical specialties, which allowed me to explore focuses within the field of medicine. Our intern group spent each week in a different clinical setting, observing in the Surgery, Hematology, Emergency, and Internal Medicine departments to name a few. This made for incredibly interesting experiences in all kinds of clinical settings – gruesome dog bites, broken bones, and the rapid assessment and treatment of victims of accidents.
My experiences in Ecuador led to an appreciation for a health care system vastly different from that of the United States. I returned with greatly improved Spanish speaking skills and a broader sense of cultural awareness. The internship helped me to identify specific areas of medicine that interest me and allowed me to gain experiences that will enhance a future career in health.