Amy Alayari – Lessons Learned from GMT

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Why did I choose to go to Nicaragua?

Before my GMT experience, I had only traveled to tourist locations or well-developed countries with my family. I wanted to gain an awareness of what is going on outside of Southern California’s picturesque bubble and travel independently without my usual support structure. Furthermore, I had grown accustomed to learning from textbooks and lecture rooms, and I wanted to experience the human side of medicine and gain clinical experience with patients... What experiences did I learn from?

Sarah’s home visit - Visiting Sarah’s home was a humbling experience and reminded me how easily skewed our priorities can become when we take things for granted. While standing in Sarah’s home, I couldn’t help but think about the unnecessary opulence we see here in the States every day, and while I was feeling a mixture of anger, sadness, and a desire to help, I noticed Sara and her children displaying absolute joy. Their love for one another was pure. Living with so little, they had much more character and perseverance than some who are lucky to have so much more. While it sounds cliché, Sara’s family reminded me about the importance of family, health, togetherness, support, and love.

Health education- I quickly learned how much of an impact our group made on the communities we visited. I saw that even if I told only 20 patients a day to boil their water before drinking it, the rest of the community would benefit because the patients who learned from us would spread their new knowledge to their families and friends. I know that when I get older, it would be much more beneficial to society and fulfilling for me to utilize my funds to travel to underserved countries and provide health education rather than live in luxury. I plan on making the implementation of preventative care in underserved populations a key objective as a future doctor.

Preventative Care- Dr. Wil and his team taught me the value of preventative care, not just globally but also within our own country. One of our current healthcare system’s biggest downfalls is that we focus too much on the treatments of disease rather than the prevention of disease. As a physician, I hope to act as a sort of mentor, educating my patients and empowering them to make healthier lifestyle choices on their own. I want my patients to apply the things they learn in the doctor’s office in their every-day life, thus taking the steps to prevent having to visit the doctor’s office in the first place.

Patient/doctor relationship: Equally as important as preventative care are genuine patient-doctor relationships. I will never forget the first time I understood what this connection felt like when I listened to the pulse of a pregnant woman’s baby. Once I heard the tiny, speedy heartbeat, I excitedly looked up at the mother with a fascinated smile. Her formerly worried eyes instantly lit up along with mine, and we sat smiling at one another, both appreciating the fragile new life inside of her. She trusted me, and that made worlds of difference in her receptiveness to my care. In the future, I will strive to maintain such relationships with my patients.

Words of wisdom from Dr. Wil about the importance of touch: In global health in particular, it is important to be cautious of patronizing your patients. I recall a conversation I had with Dr. Wil, in which he confided in me that he would worry for the students who were too afraid to touch their patients. In fact, some students would even put on gloves before touching their patients, which could definitely be offensive. I learned that a simple touch, like putting your hand on your patient’s shoulder, is both a physical and figurative act of reaching out to your patient and showing that you care for them. I remember one of my group’s patients, a woman with an infant. I offered to hold her baby and entertain the young little girl in my arms, when a few minutes later I noticed her baby had had a little “accident” in my lap! I quickly thought that I could react in two different ways – I could either have appeared disgusted or good-humored. I chose to laugh at the wet stain in my lap, and the baby’s mother giggled as well and smiled gratefully at my understanding of the situation. I truly was not disgusted; in fact, in my mind, scrubs are made to get dirty anyways, and babies will naturally have accidents. But even if I had been a little grossed out, Dr. Wil had taught me the importance of not antagonizing your patients.