There are ways to get the most from your international medical internship. Just ask Jake; he certainly figured it out and shares his story – and tips – with prospective ELI medical volunteers.
Jake, a quick-witted New Yorker who exudes energy, wanted to do a pre-med internship during a month-long school break. He picked Ecuador: it was relatively close, exciting but also affordable.
There was just one problem: Jake’s Spanish was, at best, elementary.
Boost your Spanish-language skills
“I knew I had to learn a lot of Spanish, fast!” Jake laughs. He was willing to work hard at it.
ELI placed him in a homestay in Quito, where he attended Spanish-language classes for four days. He took the program seriously, and asked his instructor for extra materials to learn key medical vocabulary and help him communicate in a hospital setting.
Afterwards, Jake traveled southwest towards the Pacific coast, to the town of Jipijapa, to begin his internship at a local city hospital.
Be proactive and open to helping out
“You have to be respectful, and know when to do it, but don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Jake advises. “Doctors and nurses know you’re there to learn. Be curious, engaged and offer to do whatever the staff needs.” As Jake noticed, even by being a gofer you create goodwill and maybe opportunities.
At first, Jake only shadowed at the hospital, then was assigned a few simple duties in the ER, such as taking vital signs, weighing patients and taking blood pressure or cleaning superficial wounds; once, he even performed an EKG heart exam.
One day, a surgeon stopped in the ER for a consultation about a patient he was about to operate on. The surgeon noticed Jake, struck up a conversation, and invited him to observe the surgery.
Work pays off
“Everyone is very open and supportive in Jipijapa,” Jake says. “A local intern helped me scrub down and lent me scrubs, and I found myself watching an appendectomy!”
Shortly later, he accompanied emergency staff in an ambulance run, and observed a gall bladder surgery, a C-section (“that was absolutely amazing!”) and even a surgical facial reconstruction procedure.
“Being in the operating room totally opened my mind to surgery” Jake says. “Before, I never considered it. Now I think what surgeons do is fascinating and very important; I may pursue it in medical school.”
Probably the single biggest highlight of his internship came as result of Jake’s commitment to learning Spanish: a doctor asked for Jake to hand him instruments during surgery.
“I knew what each instruments was in Spanish. So there I was right at the surgeon’s side, handing him his tools and holding incisions apaprt!” he marvels.
Today, as Jake awaits word on his med school applications, he recommends all pre-meds consider an ELI hospital placement in Ecuador.
“It’s a wonderful program, the ELI coordinators in Ecuador are very helpful and kind. I’d say, learn some Spanish, consider extra instruction in Ecuador and be serious and professional about your internship. It could be a life-changing experience.”
Hey med schools! ELI has a great prospect for you.