I did the GPSA Medical Fellow program this past year (May 2017-June 2018). I lived in a rural, indigenous town called Zunil, about 30 minutes outside of Xela, Guatemala. I decided to take a gap year before applying to medical school in order to gain more clinical experience, step away from the books, explore my passion for global health, and grow/mature. I was immediately intrigued by GPSA because it would allow me to live (with a host family) in a town and work in the health center as well as give me the opportunity to learn more Spanish. The program also was a year long which I believe is an adequate amount of time to really learn (especially the language) and make an impact.
Working in the health clinic and health posts gave me the opportunity to provide services that truly met a need in the community. Much of the work I did was related to glucose testing which wasn't normally available. I learned the challenges and skills for developing and implementing successful interventions. I also gained great experience in patient contact. It was an amazing feeling to integrate into a community and gain the trust of patients. Being a member of the health team exposed me to community health/outreach and the efforts put forth to increase healthcare access.
Living in Zunil was nothing short of amazing. I loved having the opportunity to live in an indigenous town with an amazing family. My host family became my real family and I will be connected to them for the rest of my life. Living in the area where I worked allowed me to understand the lifestyle as well as allowed everyone to become familiar with me. There is such value in building rapport and transitioning from outsider to community member.
GPSA service-learning programs gave me the opportunity to build mentorship skills and work with/influence the next generation. Also the program locations allowed me to experience community health in West Virginia and Belize. Being able to have a cross-cultural, multi-country experience was truly unique. The programs were one of the more demanding/challenging parts of the medical fellow position, but nevertheless rewarding.
Guatemala is such a beautiful country and an amazing place to be. The medical fellow position truly has a lot to offer as long as you are willing to go out of your comfort zone, be independent, be flexible, and learn! I grew so much from being a medical fellow and gained experiences that will greatly benefit me as a doctor and in life.