A Student’s View: Guatemala

Posted by

[note color="#f9f1d2"]Alysha Wilson, Arcadia University Interview by: Emily Pilachowski, PA-S This article was featured in the Nexus Newsletter June 2012[/note]

Alysha Wilson is a recent graduate from Arcadia University. During her clinical rotations she went to Guatemala for one month in the winter of 2011. She worked with Hearts in Motion, a group that does a number of health related projects in Central America. For more information about this group, visit .

Guatamala Physician Assistant

What did you do to prepare yourself for your trip and was it useful?

I didn't do much to prepare for my trip because I was so busy with studying for school beforehand. I did buy a book on Guatemala and their healthcare system which made a good read on the plane. I also contacted students who went to Guatemala in previous years to find out what to expect during my stay.

Who was your most memorable patient and why?

My most memorable patient was a 62 year old man named Tony who came into the ER in Zacapa, Guatemala because he had severe burns on over 50% of his body. His family said that he fell asleep next to a wood-burning stove and the fire got out of control and burned the cot next to it with Tony in it. Tony was in agonizing pain but the only type of pain medicine they could give him was a drug similar to Tylenol. Within an hour Tony was sent for emergency surgery to debride his wounds. After surgery Tony took a turn for the worse, went into shock, and died 3 days later. Prior to see this patient I had never seen anyone with such horrible burns and with such extensive burns.

What common aspects of US healthcare were noticeably absent in Guatemala?MS Wilson with a patient

There was no regulation of medical material. All of the suture material that was used was expired; some medications administered at the clinic were expired as well. I also feel as though the patients in Guatemala present to medical facilities with more serious conditions. I did not see any of the common ailments seen in a US clinic such as strains and sprains or cold or flu-like symptoms. When people came to the clinics, they had already tried as many home remedies as possible and sought medical attention as a last resort, where as in the US if someone has a sniffle they will see the doctor.

What did you learn abroad that you will use in your first job as a physician assistant?

I learned how to properly perform a history and physical Spanish, a very valuable trait in the US where there is a fast growing Hispanic population.

How would you change your approach to your time in Guatemala in order to make it a better learning opportunity as a student?

In order to make my time in Guatemala a better learning opportunity as a student I should have studied Spanish and practiced speaking in Spanish. The largest barrier I faced while in Guatemala was not being able to understand what some of the patients were trying to tell me.

Do you have any other words of advice for students going on an international rotation?

For students going on an international rotation I would suggest that they read up on the country and if they haven’t already, begin studying the language if they are not fluent. I would also suggest going into the rotation with an open mind and be prepared to be in a very unfamiliar situation.

Add a comment

You must be logged in to comment.