Albania and Philadelphia
I had the unique opportunity to do a family medicine fourth-year elective through the Summer Medical Institute, a medical missions program organized by Christian physicians serving in Philadelphia and Albania. This was a five-week program that started with three weeks in the low-income neighborhood of Hispanic North Philadelphia, giving door-to-door screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure and HIV screenings as well as providing education on asthma and healthy nutrition. Our program partnered with Esperanza, a Christian low-income health center located in North Philadelphia to provide continuity of care to the patients that we saw during the screenings. We also spent time connecting homeless people to shelters, directing people with mental illnesses, drug addiction and other biopsychosocial problems to specific resources. It has been a privilege getting a glimpse of people’s lives behind closed doors. The people here opened their homes to us and shared stories about their lives, the challenges they faced and hopes for their future. As we walked through the streets, it was great to see close relationships between neighbors, children playing outside, grandparents sitting on the porch and adult siblings reminiscing about their childhood. These were things that kept the community strong despite the challenges that they faced.
Summer Medical Institute in Albania
From July 17-31, three medical students including myself traveled to the capital city of Tirana in Albania to work with Albanian medical students and physicians to continue providing similar medical care at ABC Health Center in Tirana and door-to-door outreach in largely low-income neighborhoods. Albania is a beautiful country and the Albanians are very open and welcoming people who take hospitality very seriously. Nearly every home we walked into, even if only for a few minutes, we were offered a glass of juice, fruits, and a tiny cup of fresh honey or Turkish delights among other snacks. The effort they put into making guests feel welcome was really heartwarming. It was also wonderful working at ABC clinic where patients were scheduled every hour instead of the typical 15-minute visits offered in America. It was unfortunate, however, that medical expenses were such an obstacle even for small ailments. A lot of people outside Tirana could not afford their medication, and it was difficult to have the clinic provide the medication at a lower price. Other things we had to observe were cultural practices especially since 80 percent of the population is Muslim.
Regardless of the challenges posed by both health care systems, it was uplifting to see that even a little effort to assist people with their health or personal challenges can go a long way. As a physician, one has to be open to treating people from all backgrounds, cultures and beliefs, and this elective offered me the opportunity and skills to carry on in my career.
Summer Medical Institute in Philadelphia
View of Mt. Dajt in Tirana, Albania. Blue sky everyday!
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