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Healthcare in the developing world: my medical elective in Peru

Queen’s Medical student Gigi Lee recently travelled to Peru to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and in the developing world.

Travelling alone can be a daunting experience, as you try to navigate streets, customs and language barriers in a foreign land – but it can also be an enriching one, as fifth year Medical student Gigi Lee discovered on a recent elective in Peru.

“On my overseas placement, I completely immersed myself in another culture,” says Gigi, who got peace of mind knowing she would be fully supported during her stay in South America. Gigi travelled with Work the World, who specialise in customising overseas medical electives in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.

 “Work the World helped me experience another culture in a safe and supportive environment, and there was always help on hand.”

Life-long friends

 Gigi's adventures outside the hospital

 Gigi was not alone for long, however, as she soon made friends with her medical colleagues. “It was a fantastic way to make new friends from all over the world.”

 Outside of the hospital, she forged life-long friendships and made memories that she’ll cherish forever. “My friends and I also went to Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Huacachina, Cusco and many other places. There were plenty of tourist offices and travel agencies around the country, so organising trips during the weekends was no hassle at all.

 “In terms of travel, Machu Picchu is a must, but it does require a bit more preparation—especially if you want to do the Inca trail—when compared to other tourist attractions in Peru.”

Pushing personal boundaries

Gigi with colleagues in Peru

The trip to Peru pushed Gigi out of her comfort zone in more ways than one: not only was she experiencing a new culture; she was learning a new language, too.

“I decided to go on this trip as I wanted to push myself,” explains Gigi. “I had always wanted to go to South America, but having never learnt Spanish, I was apprehensive. However, I undertook an intensive Spanish course that totally reassured me. In the space of a week, I went from having no Spanish whatsoever to being able to hold a conversation, albeit a simple one, with local people!


Culture Shock

Gigi soon found travel buddies

While the trip proved to be life-changing, Gigi admits she was apprehensive at first. “When I first arrived at the hospital, I experienced a bit of culture shock. But it made me appreciate the healthcare system in the UK that much more.”

She soon discovered just how deep the chasm between healthcare in the UK and in Peru really is. “I spent time in oncology there,” says Gigi. “Cancer is prevalent there and some of the tumours I saw were shocking, as they were typically quite advanced because there are no screening programmes in Peru.”

Despite the obvious challenges, Gigi was quickly able to acclimatise thanks to the professionals she was working with. “The doctors and nurses were really friendly and often explained what was going on around us. I also spent some time in Paediatrics and General Medicine.”

Tempted by a medical elective?

 If you feel like breaking out of your comfort zone like Gigi, she has some choice advice:

“Some advice I would give if you’re thinking about going on a placement yourself would be to push yourself and embrace local culture. You only have one chance to undertake an overseas placement during your studies, so you may as well go big!

She adds, “I highly recommend Peru as a destination—it’s a beautiful country with a fascinating history, and the people are so welcoming. My placement in Peru was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I would go back in a heartbeat to do it all again!”

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Photo: Gigi Lee
Gigi Lee
MB Medicine
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