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My take on a medical internship in Peru

Rahul Mehta, from Northeastern University in Massachusetts, joined our Physician’s Assistant internship in Cusco, Peru for 16 weeks. Learn more about how Rahul overcame language barriers, enhanced his cultural intelligence, provided medical support, and offers advice for future interns., for a duration of 6 weeks. Learn more about how Anna provided health and medical support in a local clinic, adapted to life in Peru, and her advice for future interns.

Pre-internship nerves

Before arriving in Peru for my internship, I was very anxious. I knew I would be leaving my comfortable life at home for something completely different and unknown. I was going from seeing familiar faces and constantly using English to being in a country in which I didn’t know anyone, nor did I fluently speak the language. However, given all of these unknowns, instead of trying to plan out my experience and my trip ahead of time, I came into this with little to no expectations. I didn’t want to plan an experience in my head and not have it live up to the expectations.

My take on a medical internship in Peru, Rahul at Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Getting settled in

With that, I arrived in Cusco a week before my medical internship start date, excited to explore. I had a week entirely free to explore and adjust to the altitude. While walking around, I was shocked to see just how picturesque the city of Cusco is. Almost every couple of blocks there is a plaza with lots of greenery and fountains. My favorite thing to do has been to just sit in the various plazas and take in the sights, read, and people-watch. The only major challenge that I initially faced was my lack of ability to speak a great deal of Spanish, however, the Spanish lessons that I’m taking in conjunction with the internship are helping me feel more confident already. Overall, I’ve really taken a liking to Cusco so far, and I’m excited to continue to explore and learn more about the culture here.

Two weeks into my medical internship

Today marks day thirteen of my medical internship in Cusco. In these thirteen days, I feel like I’ve definitely learned a lot. I started my Physician’s Assistant internship at the clinic on Monday, and I already feel like I’ve learned so much. Just from observing the various doctors and seeing how they interact with their patients and staff, in addition to obviously learning about the diagnosis process and really getting a behind the scenes look at how things work. The one thing that was completely different to what I expected is that, in the US, doctors walk from room to room to interact with patients, but here, the patients all wait outside of one office door and get called in by the doctor one at a time. On the first few days, I definitely found myself having trouble to adjust to the sedentary work environment. Also, some days there aren’t as many patients. However, I’ve began to interact with the doctors more often and ask questions, so I’m learning to pass the time while learning more about the medical field I want to go into. Overall, I really think this Physician’s Assistant internship placement is a great fit, as I’m really learning a lot about what it takes to be a doctor. Being a doctor is a lot more than passing a bunch of hard exams and having a degree. I’ve learned that you really have to be personable and really care and want to make a difference, and I’m glad that I feel all of these things through my placement. I cannot wait to continue to learn more about the field, while also learning more about myself.

Peruvian host family in Cusco, Intern Abroad HQ

Developing cultural intelligence

For me, my culture is heavily rooted in family dynamics. I was brought up with the mentality that family is really everything, and that it is important to show respect and appreciation towards the ones you love. While at my medical internship placement, I was really surprised to see how much Peruvian people identified with these values as well. I knew fairly little about their culture before arriving in the country, but after working in the clinic for almost two full weeks, I’ve really learned a lot about how much the younger members of the families take care of the elders. I’ve seen this in that elders rarely come to their appointments on their own, and their younger relatives truly take an active role in wanting to gain insight into their care and treatment plans. Through my medical internship at the clinic, I have learned a lot. I can now appropriately gauge how to show care and interest in the patients without coming across as overbearing. A majority of the time, these patients want to get in and get out and be treated as quickly as possible. But it’s the simple “hola” or “buenos días” and smile, when opening the door to greet the patient, that allows them to feel more comfortable in a sometimes a very intimidating environment. This is especially useful for me as there is the obvious language barrier, but I know I’ve done a successful job in showing my warmth when the patient smiles back to me or even shakes my hand on their way out of the visit. The only advice I could really offer to someone starting an internship in a culturally diverse setting is to honestly sit back and observe and take it all in. It is going to be a different experience regardless, but that’s the excitement of it all!

Overcoming challenges

I honestly cannot believe that I am almost done with my fourth week here in Cusco! I really feel that I’ve gotten into a good work and sightseeing routine here, so I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The medical clinic has also been really interesting so far too; however, I am definitely facing some challenges. The largest challenge of the medical internship has definitely been the small percentage of people that only speak in Quechua. While the doctor I’ve been shadowing speaks Quechua perfectly, I find myself feeling quite dumbfounded and unsure of how to help the patient when I cannot understand them at all. It’s difficult because I truly want to help and learn, but they are speaking a language that I didn’t even know existed until a few months ago when I did my research on Cusco. Luckily, the doctor is helpful and explains the situation in Spanish afterwards, but I wish I could be more present in the moment rather than having to be satisfied with a recap. To remedy this, I think I’m going to ask the doctor to teach me some very basic Quechua, so that I can hopefully understand the patients slightly better. Understanding a few words and combining it with body language will hopefully help me to be better equipped to deal with this issue. I find that doctors face a challenge every day, because they’re expected to provide the best possible treatment time after time, and that can get exhausting and even repetitive when all of the cases/patients they see are relatively similar. However, I see the doctors within my clinic working hard to truly provide the best possible care to the patients, and I cannot wait to continue learning from them. I’m really enjoying myself and learning a lot, and I look forward to learning even more in the coming months to further my knowledge and skill set.

My take on a medical internship in Peru, Learn Spanish in Cusco

Reflecting on the medical internship role

On a daily basis during my Physician’s Assistant medical internship, my role mainly consisted of shadowing a doctor of my choice. Depending on the doctor, I could be responsible for anything as small as organizing paperwork and writing reference forms, to things as important as helping to write prescriptions and listening for key signs in diagnosing someone with illnesses such as bronchitis, the flu, etc. I truly got to do as much as I wanted within the clinic, as long as I communicated. I also developed a nice working relationship with the doctors and nurses in the clinic, and they were great for helping to improve my Spanish.

Reflecting on the successes of my medical internship

The greatest successes of my medical internship has definitely been when patients thank not only the doctor, but also me after their visit. I consider it a success because it means they’ve acknowledged my importance as well as the doctors, and it is a truly a great feeling. I think I really did learn a lot about the medical field both in general, and in South America in comparison to the United States. My biggest goal was to make sure that I could set myself apart from other students looking for further internships, shadowing experiences, and eventually medical school spots. I think that I was truly able to do this by developing a more global understanding of medicine that I can use to help grow my knowledge in the states.

My take on a medical internship in Peru, Rahul at Machu Picchu, Peru

My advice for other medical interns in Peru

Sometimes, the clinic becomes overwhelming since you can never tell when there will be an influx of patients. However, within the internship work space, I’ve created a healthy environment by getting to know the doctors and nurses on a more personal level, so that I feel more comfortable in the clinic. The staff will make jokes with me and ask me about my weekend plans/travels, which has created a nice work and social life balance within my work space. I really have enjoyed getting to know everyone so far. My recommendations for future medical interns in Peru, are to come into the experience with an open mind. It may be intimidating at first coming to another country and having to follow their procedures and customs, all while learning to adjust to a new culture and environment - but it will truly be the best experience. I would highly recommend this program, or any study abroad program for that matter. It was an eye-opening experience and something that I will always miss.

Looking for your own medical internship experience? Medical internships in Cusco are available year-round and are offered in conjunction with Intern Abroad HQ’s experiential learning curriculum, which is focused on resume building, personal and professional development. Whether you’re looking for an internship for course credit, to fulfil an internship for graduation requirements, or simply wishing to gain experience and boost your resume, we can help find the right internship for you. Learn more about interning in Peru through our Q & A blog or explore diverse internships related to Healthcare and Special Needs. Got questions? Feel free to contact us for more information. If you’re ready to start planning, here are the next steps:

  1. Apply online first. The application process is non-obligatory and free.

  2. After applying, you’ll receive more details on how to confirm your internship placement. Note that all the internship fees can be reviewed online.

  3. To confirm, you need to register online so that we can lock in your placement. Our registration fee of US$299 enables us to plan your specific internship and provide you with ongoing pre-departure support.

  4. Once you’re registered, the countdown to your internship begins - you can book your flights and start dreaming about some international travel!

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