Kendall Mulvaney - Alternative Spring Break, Public Health in Mexico
My name is Kendall Mulvaney, and I am a student-athlete at the University of Denver. This past spring break, two of my best friends and I decided to venture to Mexico, but not to vacation in Cabo with the rest of our friends. Since we are all interested in the medical field, we took it upon ourselves to travel with Projects Abroad for our first hands-on experience with medicine in another country.
We choose Mexico, or Guadalajara in particular, because being from Southern California, we have a close proximity to Mexico. I was also fascinated by the idea that healthcare can differ so greatly in places only a few hundred miles apart. So with that in mind, we decided to take on an experience to not only gain more medical knowledge, but also to learn more about the culture there as well.
Arriving in Guadalajara, Mexico
Upon arrival, a friendly employee picked us up promptly and drove us to our new home for that following week. Our host family (Fam Vaca) was more than welcoming and made the transition easy, even though they spoke little English. We were accommodated in a spacious room, shared with other volunteers of the same gender (my friend and I requested to be together). The home was very well kept and the food was delicious! The most common phrase used in the house was “muchas gracias, es muy bueno” because of the amount of time and effort the family put into making each meal. The host family was also very respectful and flexible with our schedules, making sure there were always necessities available and a meal prepared.
Introduction to the Public Health program
The next morning, there were cars and taxis waiting for our group of volunteers with a pre-destined location, which was the Projects Abroad headquarters. We were mixed in with the other house in the same one-week program. There, we were given a map (with all of the essential locations circled), an emergency card, a schedule, and a list of phone numbers and contact information. The headquarters was also well kept and there were plenty of places to sit and relax. The Projects Abroad employees were welcoming and quick to offer food and drinks to assure comfort and make us feel at home.
At the office we also had a basic Spanish lesson in order to refresh our memories and integrate us into the Spanish-speaking culture. We were also taught basic medical tips/FAQ by the head doctor, where he explained what is regular and irregular, so we knew what to look for when in contact with the patients. These lessons were very helpful and made us more confident when we were interacting with the patients.
Volunteering on medical outreaches
In our travels, we visited several locations where we were interacting with local patients. The first stop was an elementary school, where we were paired with a doctor and performed check-ups on students, which included asking about their family history, taking their weight, height, and heart rate. We were also able to use tools to listen to their airways and take their blood pressure. Even though the diagnoses were usually minor or healthy, the trust the students instilled upon us was humbling and made us feel like we were making an impact by offering them the care they rarely got in terms of simple health benefits.
Throughout the exams, the doctors helped with Spanish vocabulary and colloquial terms in order to make the communication flow better and provide a better sense of comfort for the patients. This was very helpful, especially when the doctors allowed us to do a majority of the question asking and then chimed in when the patient did not fully understand.
The next location we helped out was a community that was in great need of health care and there, we were able to again work with the doctors and ask the patients questions regarding their health histories and symptoms. This experience felt more impactful and opened my eyes to how such little attention to symptoms can go a long way. We were able to help patients from the ages of 6 months to 60 years old. In fact, one of the local doctors, Carlos, and my friend and I actually ventured off into one of the patient’s homes to take a look at her elderly mother, who we diagnosed with severe hypertension. It was an eye-opening experience to not only witness the struggles of that condition, but also to enter their home that barely resembled a house, but they seemed content with what they had. This exposure made me very thankful for all of the luxuries we have in at home in America, but it also showed me that you don’t need all of those things to be happy.
We visited another similar community and had a very comparable experience. Working hands-on in these communities not only made me more appreciative, but I also learned a great deal of healthcare basics and an overwhelming amount of Spanish that I had not been taught before.
Reflecting on my experiences in Mexico
My favorite location we visited was the school on the last day; largely because of all the interactions with the children we were able to be a part of. Not only did we keep a record of their health, but also we were able to see their shining personalities one after the other. After a long day of check-ups and physicals, they brought us all together with the children and they chanted/sang a thank you song, which made each and every one of us grateful for the experience. We even got to play a little bit of soccer with a few of the children when we were finished and the kids enjoyed having us there, which was humbling and highlighted the importance of service projects like the one we embarked on.
One of the most memorable parts of my experience was hands-down the staff that we worked with. Not only did they teach us Spanish, and medical terms/procedures, but we learned so much about each other. We were able to spend the time away from volunteer work with one another, either eating or socializing. Even the drives to and from the communities and schools were entertaining and they made us feel at home and were more than willing to answer questions and even debriefed us after and before the service events.
I was nervous to take on this experience in a new place and with new people, but I could not have been happier with the people and environment that was provided. I took away amazing memories and an overwhelming amount of knowledge that has made me a better person/student and I have Projects Abroad to thank!
Read more about the Public Health in Mexico Alternative Spring Break Trip.