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Medical Student Participates in Mobile Clinics in Peru

by Connie K. Ho | March 19th, 2012

Move over Indiana Jones, here comes Tiffany Tam. Tiffany Tam, a medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, first visited Peru as an undergraduate to study archaeology. Since then, she has returned to help Peru in other ways–it’s only fitting to say that she has one up over Jones as someone who has contributed to both the archaeological and medical communities.

A few months ago, Tam volunteered with the Lamay Clinic Project, an international medical school elective organized by medical students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.  The group of volunteers consisted of medical students and physicians who would provide basic medical care to people in the surrounding villages of Urubamba. They worked in collaboration with nonprofit Peruvian Hearts.

To prepare for her two-week service learning trip, Tam completed a number of tasks beforehand. She enrolled in the Applied Medical Spanish Program (AMSP) at Case Western and participated in various aspects of the Lamay Clinic Project in the greater Cleveland area.  She also attended training sessions for back pain, infant CPR education, and eye exams.

Arriving in Peru, the participants had a jam packed schedule, starting from seven in the morning with breakfast to medical meetings at six at night. Two days of each week were spent at Puesto de Salud de Lamay, a health clinic run by a local physician.  At the clinic, Tam assisted by taking basic information, performing physical exams, and then presenting findings to faculty members.  The rest of the time was spent in remote mountain villages, seeing patients who have limited access to medical care and running workshops on health education topics such as proper hygiene, infant CPR training for mothers, and back pain relief.

One of Tam’s initial fears was the ability to be able to speak with villagers; all communication was to be done in Spanish, apart from a few locations that would utilize a translator to help understand the indigenous language Quezhchuah. Tam’s goal was to assist workshop on exercises to aid patients who spent a majority of time hunched over or sitting down at work.

“At first, I was really nervous about teaching the villagers back pain exercises because my Spanish was really rusty and I didn’t know how I was going to explain something complicated,” remarked Tam. “But I got more comfortable with it. I remember I was once at the top of a hill, sitting there and working with an old indigenous Peruvian lady, and a group of them became really excited to learn and they understood me.”

Traveling to the villages surrounding the town of Urubamba was quite an adventure for Tam. The buses had to traverse narrow, hilly roads that were built on mountainsides. Tam recounts a trip to Amparu, a town high up in the mountains in Pisac where she was greeted by a number of chickens and cows walking by the dirt roads. A group of village women, dressed in colorful woven cloths, also welcomed the team of volunteers by sprinkling flowers over their heads.

On that particular day, the volunteers saw 70 patients. One of the highlights of the visit was a pregnant lady who found out she was having a boy from a doctor’s ultrasound and help from a local obstetrician. Tam felt honored to be able to witness this moment.

“It felt weird because they were really appreciative. I had just finished my first year of medical school and I felt under-qualified and undeserving,” said Tam.

Back in the U.S., Tam believes she has a better understanding of the career path she wants to take.

“Continuing with the rest of medical school, I want to make sure to take a specialty where I can help out developing countries. I learned that I like to do this kind of work and I want to do something that has more of an impact in the future,” commented Tam. “I’m interested in ophthalmology. During the trip, there were a lot of older people with cataracts and I want to look into cataract surgery.”

Tam reminisces on her trip every once in awhile, as it was her first experience in global health at medical school.

“It was really cool being with other medical students and to be with doctors who volunteer their time and money to help these people,” said Tam. “I had a really great experience and was really happy to go back to Peru as a medical student.”

Tiffany Tam is a second year medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Before attending medical school, she was a biology student at the University of California, Los Angeles. On her free time, she likes to go trail running, traveling, and trying new cuisines.



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