“I loved it!”
Kathy Ray, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spent two weeks volunteering in the rural public health clinic in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. The learning experience was invaluable. She developed what will be, she is certain, lifelong professional relationships with local nurses and doctors. She improved her Spanish language skills and she developed a greater appreciation for Mexico.
The village has one of the better-equipped clinics in the region and many patients from smaller villages are referred there for their primary care. Because of that, the patient census on a given day can be high. The clinic has two general practitioners, a pediatrician, a psychologist, social worker, nurses and a dentist assigned for patient care. It serves 8,000 village residents plus people from more remote rural villages. They welcomed Kathy Ray with open arms.
Kathy loved living in the village and volunteering there. “It was the first time in my life I have been on my own,” she said. “I got married young and started raising children when I was 22 years old.” She had never been out of the U.S. before.
What Kathy Ray was able to accomplish in two short weeks
She started a fun Brazilian exercise program, called capoeira, for teens and pre-teens held in the central plaza in front of the church. The exercises incorporate music, games, dance, acrobatics, and martial arts (it is non-violent, she explains). The children loved it, and she got several repeat participants. (You can see examples on YouTube.) Pre-teens and teens everywhere are at risk for early onset diabetes and fun exercise helps overcome the risks.
Kathy gave rubella, DPT, and hepatitis-B vaccinations to children and adults, and shadowed the ob-gyn doctor. She learned hands-on techniques, and also shared ways that Carolina nurses are taught to give emotional caring and support to patients who are in medical crisis.
“The nurses and doctors are all very professional. I was able to shadow the nurse who was in charge of vaccinations and the OB-GYN doctor who cared for pregnant women. I learned the techniques for vaccinating infants, children and teens, and learned to read ultrasounds to identify gender. It was great.”
Kathy is a mature and wise 39 year-old mother of teenagers. This gave her the ability and perspective to become a peer professional.
She shared her perspectives about needed safety education materials
Even in the two short weeks that Kathy volunteered, she knows she made a difference. She recommended that the clinic publish educational pamphlets for parents about unintentional accidents, including how parents can protect their children by encouraging the use of helmets, seatbelts, and to not to ride in the back of pick-up trucks (how many accidents happen). Kathy saw she could influence and encourage safety education by reinforcing the message that “it only takes one person to make a difference.”
Kathy and I spent over an hour together in my office while she recounted her experiences during her two-week stay with a local family. She has written about living in Teotitlan del Valle and being a volunteer nursing student on her blog: http://onceuponatimeinoaxaca.blogspot.com/
She has posted photos there, too.
Placing student nurses between their junior and senior years
For me, it has been such a delight to place nursing students in Oaxaca as part of a global study experience. It has been four years since I started this program with the help of Federico Chavez Sosa. And, it is beneficial for students to be volunteering in Mexico since many of our immigrants are from Spanish-speaking countries. Teotitlan is perfect because it is safe, small, welcoming and we have a network of relationships there. The village health professionals receive the benefit of smart, educated and dedicated nursing students to help.
“I was excited, but also nervous about going to Mexico on my own. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. The relationships I developed will be life-long. I loved the beautiful scenery, the visual imagery, the rolling farmland surrounded by mountains. And, I walked everywhere.”
“And, of course, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator was my bible.”
How did Kathy manage on a strict student budget?
She bought pre-cooked food at the local market, purchased prepared yogurt mixed with fresh fruit, cooked beans, rice, red pepper, and choyote squash in the house she was staying where she had kitchen privileges. She drank the purified water and didn’t brush her teeth with tap water! She didn’t get sick 🙂
“Every day, someone would come to the clinic with a frozen milky drink flavored with cinnamon (horchata) that we would all buy for 40 cents each. That was a highlight of my day,” Kathy remembered with a smile.
Kathy will receive university credit for this experience after she writes and submits a paper under the guidelines of the global study program at the school of nursing.
Norma Hawthorne works with accredited schools of nursing to place talented student volunteers for two- to six-weeks in public health clinics in Oaxaca. If you would like to discuss this opportunity for summer 2012, please contact me. (The relationship must be with the university/college rather than with individual students.)
UK Medical Student Talks About Health Care in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca
Edd Morris grew up in the United Kingdom (UK) on the Wales-England border. He just finished medical school in London, England, and decided to return to a Spanish-speaking country to volunteer in a community service project before going on to a two-year hospital residency back home. He has a passion for people and community health. When he contacted us about coming to Oaxaca, we helped place him in the Teotitlan del Valle public health clinic. Here is his story.
“I’ve always wanted be a General Practitioner (that’s what we call Family Doctors in the UK) and so I thought it would be an incredible opportunity to volunteer in a community clinic in rural Mexico.
[Photo above left: Doctora Elizabet, clinic director, with Edd Morris. Photo above right: Edd with patient and Dr. Jonas.}
I’ve been here for a month, working alongside the doctors and nurses of the Teotitlan de Valle Centro de Salud. I’ve observed consultations and undertaken my own, too. I’ve accompanied the nurses on a community vaccination drive, And, I’ve dressed a lot of wounds and ulcers!
One programme here really caught my imagination. It’s called Oportunidades, and it’s a national social support system offered by the Mexican state.
[Photo above, left to right: Ms. Mayra, administrative manager, Dra. Elizabet, Edd Morris, Dra. Guadalupe]
Through Oportunidades, disadvantaged families can receive financial support from the Mexican Government, as long as they fully participate according to the plan.
There are different strands to the programme — the children in the family must attend school and the head of the household is required to go to seminars about healthy living, for example.
[Photo above left: Edd with village community service in-take volunteer, and above right, with nursing staff.]
Healthcare is a crucial aspect. Everybody who participates in Oportunidades must attend a six-month health check with a doctor, and children must be up-to-date with all their vaccines. Doctors should bring up relevant issues at every health check-up. For example, it is important to discuss pregnancy prevention with adolescents.
In Teotitlan, Oportunidaes participants are also asked to take part in group exercise. I went running with the men’s group last Thursday, then we played a 60-minute soccer match (it was exhausting — I was the one who almost needed medical help when the game ended!)
[Photo above left, Edd with Dr. Pablo, and right, with Norma Hawthorne]
Families who demonstrate their engagement with the Oportunidades programme then receive financial support from the government. The money is paid directly to the bank account of head of the household – effectively wiping out any diversion of funds.
What’s even more impressive is that the role of head-of-household is always delegated to a woman. Mexican research has shown that when a woman receives the money, she’s much more likely to spend it on her family and children – exactly those the programme is meant to support.
Oportunidades is a really impressive programme and the doctors tell me that it’s been successful at breaking the cycle of poverty. Like any large-scale initiative, it’s not perfect or infallible, but it’s one of the things which really impressed me with healthcare in Mexico.”
[Public health messages throughout the town help educate people about health prevention, including dental care, diabetes, heart and respiratory illness, and more.]
Edd Morris leaves Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, on June 18, 2014. When he returns to London, he will begin work at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, London which serves a diverse, low-income population. He receives his official medical degree from St. Georges, University of London (www.sgul.ac.uk) in two weeks. Edd remarked about what a rich, meaningful and culturally diverse experience this has been to have a direct connection with the local population. What he learned will help prepare him for the next step in his profession. From all accounts, everyone he has come in contact with has enjoyed knowing, working with and hosting him here. When are you coming back? was a question I heard all day.
We are accepting applications for volunteers to serve in the public health clinic for 2014 and 2015. You must be a student in a baccalaureate or masters degree program in the following fields: nursing, medicine, physician assistant, and be a Spanish speaker with at least one-year of university level language skills. If you are interested, please contact us.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Health Care, Travel & Tourism
Tagged centro de salud, clinic, doctor, internship, medicine, Mexico, nurse, Oaxaca, physician assistant, public health, student, Teotitlan del Valle, volunteer