Alumni Spotlight: Andrea Villanueva


Andrea is a first generation college student and a Global Health major at the University of California, San Diego. She is a proud Latina and a member of Chicanos for Community Medicine on campus; her passion is health education and healthcare policies.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I wanted to go somewhere that I could practice my Spanish, but also get hands-on experience. I also wanted to go somewhere that I had never been before. This program would give me the opportunity to get exposed to real-life experiences in the medical field. It would also help fulfill my graduation requirement at my school.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The program arranged my placement at the clinic I was working at. They also arranged my host family, two meals each day, and transportation from the airport. My program coordinator would check in on me and take me out to visit the city. The only things I had to organize on my own were flights, transportation to the airport, and any tourist activites I wanted to do.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish I had spent some more time being preparing emotionally. The culture shock was very real for me, and was something that I had not put a lot of thought into. My biggest piece of advice though would be to not be afraid to travel alone! At first I was very scared, and I wish I had spent more time in the beginning thinking about the fun I was having.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

My day would start off by opening the triage room, greeting patients, and preparing the examination room. The doctor would then come in and we'd start calling in patients. On an average day we'd see anywhere from 20-30 patients. The days consisted of shadowing doctors and helping them with their examinations. In between patients, I would have the opportunity to ask the doctor questions about the particular case or the healthcare in Peru. I assisted with translation for the doctors, and had the opportunity to help in surgeries as well.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I think the most challenging part by far was how difficult it is on your mental health to be seeing sick patients every day. Sometimes you have to deliver bad news and it's emotionally taxing. Luckily, the doctors were always there to give me advice or talk to me about how they get through the days. It was great to speak with people who understood and had gone through the same emotional rollercoaster.

What was the best piece of advice that was given to you?

The doctors gave me some great pieces of advice as I continue my educational career: the key to being a successful doctor is the ability to empathize with your patients; treat each one as if they're your mother, father, sibling, or child.

Our job is to bring peace of mind to patients, peace of mind to live happy, healthy lives.