Volunteer at Hospitalito Atitlán:
Help Save Lives & Transform Yours
Drs. Sofia Homberg and Andreas Boss - 3 months
Drs. Sofia and Andreas on top of Volcán Tolimán with Santiago Atitlán in the background
Santiago Atitlán is a world away from Germany, home to volunteers Sofia Homberg, a pediatrician, and Andreas Boss, a psychiatrist. During their three months volunteering at the Hospitalito, they had a complete Atitlán experience, combining their clinical work with hiking and camping in the area’s natural beauty. Sophie adapted comfortably to the varied demands of the outpatient clinic service.
“Pediatric medicine in Germany is a thoroughly regulated system of tasks, behaviors, patients. Here, I've done anything. Adult consultations, transfers, caesareans, night shift – whatever,” she said.
One favorite story: finding other opportunities to contribute, she taught a "how to live a healthy life" class for women in the Maternal Infant Sponsorship program
, (with a Tz'utujil translator.) The topic was dental hygiene, and at the end she asked for questions. The women just sat there expressionless (a Maya cultural norm.) Sofia waited, feeling a little timid herself. Then one woman tentatively raised her hand. She had - not a question - but a comment. "Thank you for telling us this information,” she said to Sofia. “We all just thought our children had bad teeth."
Dr. Andreas, a psychiatrist, worked in conjunction with the local Centro de Salud.
During one home visit, he found a schizophrenic man tied up in his home. His illness would be manageable with medication, usually unavailable.
“The problem is that there is no continuity of medicine. They get some, and then they run out.
Psych meds need continuity,” he said.
This area of need is just beginning to receive attention in rural Guatemala. An international pharmaceutical company is exploring the possibility of providing a controlled supply of psych meds through the pharmacy at Hospitalito Atitlán.
Drs. Brent Burkett and Jennifer Thoene - 3 years
Drs. Brent and Jennifer with their four children
Brent Burkett and Jennifer Thoene are family practice doctors from Mission Doctors in the USA. For three years they shared a single volunteer rotation at HA, choosing this service because Santiago Atitlán provides relative safety, where they could raise their four children while sharing their work with the very poor.
During their tenure, Dr. Brent completed a research project (publication pending) investigating the need for a separate set of intra-uterine growth curves in Guatemala. He posed the research question,
“Are small babies in utero a problem that requires intervention,
or are they just small babies?”
A valid growth curve required two ultrasounds two weeks apart, but the local community averages only three prenatal check ups for every four births, presenting him with the sort of practical problem typical in poverty social research.
The couple advised future volunteers at HA to set up their network for referrals for second opinions in the USA before coming to Guatemala. Also, to
“…bring an iPod with all the newest (medical) apps,” and of course, to “bring chocolate.”
This fall, Brent and Jennifer will volunteer again long-term at a hospital in northwest Cameroon.
Dr. Andrew Smith - 18 months
Dr. Andrew Smith with his wife, Sara, and their three year-old daughter Rosie
In May, family practitioner Dr. Andy Smith and his family, Sara and Rosie, ended their stay of 1.5 years in Santiago Atitlán. Coming from Lawrence Hospital in the Boston area, the family did all of their fundraising themselves for their term of service. Andy accepted the challenge of practicing in a different culture, appreciated the challenge of “learning on the fly… It was a wonderful overall experience; the patients are incredibly sweet,” he said. Asked for advice to possible volunteers, he said of HA,
“This place has more breadth of service to offer. If I went somewhere else, I’d be doing poverty and malaria medicine in a health clinic - I’d be bored. I have training I want to use.”
Dr. Andy also expressed his professional frustration with the different institutional culture, which he described as “paternalistic, like in the USA 30 years ago.” Andy plans to return to HA in the future with a program to train residents.
Laura "Lucky" Anderson, RN - 5 weeks
Lucky hikes with scrub nurse Jacinto on a day off
Lucky Anderson RN came to Santiago Atitlán to study Spanish and then volunteered for 2.5 weeks in the HA nursing department. She discovered that her norteamericano experience as a surgical nurse was more task-specific than nursing in Guatemala. “Here, every nurse needs to know how to do everything,” she said.
“I thought I would have the opportunity to do a lot of teaching - but
instead I’ve been doing a lot of learning.”
For a day of leisure, Lucky went hiking with Hospitalito staff members.
“There’s no better testament to friendship than spending time
together outside of work.”
Hospitalito Atitlán is now offering Continuing Medical Education credits for physicians and nurses who want to learn Medical Spanish. Each course is conducted over one week in beautiful Santiago Atitlán, and physicians and nurses can earn up to 25 CME credits. Courses are scheduled ten times through 2013.
This program was made possible through a partnership between the Hospitalito and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians and nurses.
To learn more and to sign up, visit us at: www.hospitalitoatitlan.org/CME/