Assisting with Healthcare in Peru

Finding Affirmation in a Foreign Land

This past summer, while most people enjoyed trips to the beach, savored frosty beverages at neighborhood barbeques, or sat in lawn chairs letting the sun dry them off between dips in the pool, second-year student Elizabeth Chernyak, set off on what proved to be a humbling and life-affirming journey thanks to the Einstein Global Health Fellowship Program.

 Second-year student Elizabeth Chernyak’s summer abroad in Peru provided a formative clinical experience.
Second-year student
Elizabeth Chernyak
Following the end of first year, Ms. Chernyak traveled to Cusco, Peru, where she volunteered at a cervical cancer clinic. Leaving days after the spring semester came to a close, and arriving back just as the fall semester was to start, she spent two months in Cusco, working and living at the clinic.

Much of Ms. Chernyak's time was spent performing PAP smears on local patients, along with other students and volunteers, under the supervision of the clinic's staff. She also handed out pamphlets advertising the clinic's services and administered surveys to aid in ongoing research.

Through her interactions with the patients, Ms. Chernyak learned that many of the women had never had a PAP smear before, due to financial factors, a lack of availability or cultural influences.

The most important aspect of her experience though, was being involved in interactions with patients. "After being in a classroom and learning basic sciences for a year, it was refreshing to meet hundreds of patients who really needed our help and relied on us to take care of them," she said.

Seeing women who faced difficulties accessing medical care reminded Ms. Chernyak how easily we take our resources in the United States for granted. "While there were outstanding physicians in Peru, I saw how they were often limited by the dearth of available resources. It really opened my eyes to the disparities between healthcare in the U.S. versus what can be provided in a developing nation."

Even so, Ms. Chernyak wasn't daunted by the challenging nature of her work in Cusco. Instead, she drew inspiration from each new issue that arose and found strength in each trial. "It was particularly helpful to keep an open mind, to be flexible and to maintain a positive attitude," she observed.  

Ms. Chernyak also found rewards in the little moments she shared with local staff members and patients. "One of my most memorable experiences was a day in a clinic located in a rural village of Peru. We had driven up through hills and mountains to a village so remote that we had to get out of the car and carry our supplies along unpaved roads. We worked for hours, seeing patients who had never received any kind of medical care."

She continued, "After an exhausting day, the staff surprised us with cookies and Inca Kola to express their gratitude and feed the ‘starving' medical students. We were so touched by this simple gesture, and it was then that we realized how much our work meant to both the patients and the staff."

Despite the fast-paced and demanding nature of the work, Ms. Chernyak also found time to enjoy the nation's culture, taking in live music and even trying alpaca meat.

In reflecting on her summer, Ms. Chernyak noted, "The experience reaffirmed my decision to pursue a medical career. Through the patients I saw, so grateful to receive medical care, and those who aided me in providing it, I got a good reminder of why we are in medical school in the first place."

Posted on: Thursday, October 24, 2013