This summer I traveled to Córdoba, Argentina, for two months with the non-profit Child Family Health International. My experience was incredible but very different than what I had expected going into it. Having volunteered in a medical setting with an NGO previously (IVHQ), I was a bit disappointed at how little clinical involvement this program allowed for current medical students. For my first month in Argentina, I shadowed in a public pediatric hospital. The differences between the Argentinian and United States medical systems are enormous, and the disparities I had read about prior to my trip were readily apparent. I believe understanding and educating oneself on the context and culture one is about to enter is imperative to achieving a useful and culturally appropriate international experience.
Despite being treated in a clinical environment that in the United States would be deemed completely inappropriate, the majority of patients seemed relatively happy with the care they received, and the physicians were extremely empathetic. Shadowing doctors within a culture that is more intimate was interesting, as patients often see doctors as family friends or equals there as opposed to figures of authority, which is often the perception of physicians within the U.S. The relative social equality between doctors and patients was a difference I admired, as it seemed to eliminate any apprehension or fear that existed within a patient’s perception of his or her physician. This equal social footing was apparent throughout my rotations in the Hospital Pediátrico, which included dermatology, ophthalmology and emergency medicine.
For my second month in Córdoba, I participated in public health research at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. The project was focused on social determinants of health and health outcomes throughout different cities and provinces within Argentina. It is part of a larger, multi-national study (SALURBAL) being spearheaded by Dornsife at Drexel. During my research stay, I edited proposals, performed statistical analysis on national public health data and presented at an inter-departmental seminar. This portion of my experience was most interesting since the project was interdisciplinary, requiring input from various departments including nutrition, anthropology and public health. My time doing research was also much more demanding and hands-on compared to my time spent shadowing.
Ultimately, my work culminated in a presentation during an inter-departmental seminar. The presentation demonstrated results I had calculated during several weeks of analysis of national public health surveys. As Argentina invests little money in public health research, the prospect of further projects by SALURBAL is exciting. Even my smaller study had fascinating results that will hopefully be corroborated and used to inform health policy decisions in the future. My study is being presented at a research congress in Northern Argentina this fall.
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