I was placed in a small clinic in the town of Padre Cocha. As a medical student, I wanted a chance to see what real-world application my studies so far could provide, learn about health care delivery, and build up enough vocabulary to communicate with patients in Spanish. Never having been to South America, I can't say I had any concrete expectations or that I was prepared for my arrival in terms of clothing, language skills or clinical experience. Because I was going to go straight from Peru back to medical school in Israel at the end of the internship, I had packed an enormous suitcase full of everything I might need in Peru as well as what I would need for the upcoming academic year. I would suggest packing lighter! Iquitos is a boat ride away, and you can purchase most day-to-day items there.
At the clinic, the staff initially assumed that I had more experience and/or credentials than I did. While slightly unsettling at first, this gave me the opportunity to explain my limitations and learn from them. There, the greatest determinant of my experience was my ability and willingness to ask questions. Having completed only my first year of medical school, my knowledge was sparse and I had plenty of room to grow. While there are very few complicated cases coming into such a small and poorly equipped clinic, I learned an enormous amount in only three weeks. Clearly, this was not at all limited to medical knowledge. I became much better at understanding and communicating in Spanish and I learned a lot about health care delivery in a somewhat isolated area. I was able to see firsthand how social, political, and geographical circumstances affect people's ability to access and benefit from healthcare.
The experience was more than an internship, though. People inside and outside of the clinic were friendly, interesting, and open. The family that we stayed with was wonderful and included us in some of their social events, whether it was a party or just walking around town after dinner.