This blog is a part of a series. Check out our other Volunteer Experience blogs for more!
In 2010, GUIMEDIC started with one doctor traveling to remote places with a backpack full of medical supplies. Since then, over 1,200 volunteers have worked with GUIMEDIC and helped it become what it is today. Volunteers are an absolutely necessary part of the work done through this organization, as its main outreach projects are carried out via mobile clinics where groups of volunteer medical students and doctors travel by van, boat, foot, or small airplane to reach remote places where there is no doctor. Being in a country where medical students are allowed to assist consultations under the supervision and assistance of doctors is what allows GUIMEDIC to continue to expand and create the impact that is does. Because medical students are eager to get started with hands-on experiences and are also under the pressure of applying to competitive specialties, they tend to be extremely enthusiastic about being involved in GUIMEDIC brigades. In fact, we see that every week as brigade opportunities are posted, spots are full in mere minutes. We are grateful to have a group of eager medical student volunteers available to us and are always accepting more volunteers to join our group. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer and want to know what its like, this blog post is for you.
Continue along to read our interview with current volunteer, Naomi.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how long you've been working with GUIMEDIC.
My name is Naomi Graham. I am from Alaska and am now a third-year medical student studying medicine in Mexico. I have been with GUIMEDIC for almost two years now volunteering for brigades and social media development!
How has your experience working with GUIMEDIC been overall?
My experience with GUIMEDIC has been incredible. When I decided to study medicine abroad, I knew it would allow me clinical experience that I couldn’t get in the US. However, I didn’t realize how amazing the clinical experience would be, or that GUIMEDIC would be so generous as to give so many of their volunteers like me an opportunity to be intimately involved in the administrative portion of their organization. It has been so much more than just learning about clinical medicine, but it has brought me lifelong friends and relationships and has helped me in my personal development.
Is there something that you experienced while working with GUIMEDIC that you did not expect?
For one, I didn’t expect to be able to travel to so many beautiful places so far away. Being from Alaska, I love to hike and explore. I didn’t realize that that part of me would be fulfilled while also being able to practice medicine, it’s like a dream come true! I also didn’t expect how much I would grow in my patient communication skills. I thought maybe I would just learn basic clinical skills, but when I realized that basically nothing can get done between a doctor and a patient unless there has been good, clear communication, that’s when I started to develop those skills. Getting patients (especially those who maybe have never even seen a doctor before) to trust me takes just as much skill as any exam or maneuver I could perform.
Which clinical skills have you most improved on since working with GUIMEDIC?
Talking about purely clinical skills, I would have to say I feel I have improved the most in reasoning skills. The most difficult thing for me during my first medical brigade was to be listening to a patient’s symptoms and trying to connect them together with the information gathered via physical exam to try and brainstorm a potential pathological process. At first, all the symptoms seemed unrelated in my mind, even when in class on paper we could put them together well enough to answer a test question. Being in the field doing medicine is so much different than reading words on paper. But little by little the lightbulb in my brain came on to be able to discern what was happening with many of the patients I encounter.
Is there any fear or insecurity that you overcame working with GUIMEDIC?
One of my biggest fears on my first brigade was speaking Spanish to patients. I had only a few years of experience speaking the language and was generally shy to speak it in front of people. GUIMEDIC forced me to overcome that within an hour of my first brigade when we realized there were too many patients waiting for us and that our groups of two had to be split up and we all had to take our own patients to be able to reach everyone. It seemed much easier speaking it at a brigade than in front of friends because the people I was seeing were our patients and I knew there was no room for my insecurities and that this was ultimately about them, not about me. So, I had to set all of my fears aside for their sake. It has really helped me and I feel I have no issues at all almost two years later.
What is one memory that has impacted you the most working with GUIMEDIC?
There have been oh-so-many! One of them that stands out in my mind was seeing a young woman around my age come in for gynecological concerns. She explained her symptoms and I was confused because they didn’t seem like “symptoms” at all, but just a natural part of being a woman. After asking some questions to try and understand this young woman’s concerns, she admitted that an older woman in the village had told her that this was a sign of cervical or uterine cancer. I finally understood the constant look of concern on this woman’s face; she thought she might die. After more questioning and exams, we knew that in reality, she was overall very healthy. It took 20-30 minutes of reassuring her and simply talking to her about the female reproductive system and what we as females can experience that may vary from person to person. In the end, she still looked slightly concerned, so we told her when we would be back and that we will be here if she is still worried.
This impacted me because I can’t imagine young women out in this world living in fear because of a lack of basic education on their own bodies. These young women have so many other things to worry about in their daily lives, which for most of them in these villages includes raising children, taking care of elderly relatives, keeping up the home, and sending their kids to school.
GUIMEDIC and its volunteers take the time to talk to patients about these things and really educate them about their health in order to empower them to take their health into their own hands. This is one of the things that makes GUIMEDIC so special!
How do you think working with GUIMEDIC will help you in the future outside of your professional career?
One of the most important skills I feel I have been given through GUIMEDIC that will impact not only my future career as a doctor, but also just my life in general is probably leadership skills. GUIMEDIC teaches you so well to work with a team, as in most brigades you will be teamed up with one or two other volunteers to provide care. When you have been on enough brigades, you start being responsible for teaching new volunteers the ropes, and that has also helped me grow. A lot of the time I want to do things my way, interacting and treating patients how I want to, but GUIMEDIC has taught me to be patient with all of my peers and enjoy observing the unique way that they interact with patients. Also, having the role of coordinating the area of social media and marketing has helped me gain many “people skills” as well. I love being part of this team!
What would you say to someone who is interested in volunteering with GUIMEDIC in the future?
Go for it! Volunteering for a brigade for the first time is SO nerve-wracking, but you will be SO supported. You will have no clue what you are doing, and that’s absolutely okay. You will have to be humble in asking for help and practice saying “I don’t know”, but a few brigades in you will be feeling extremely confident, grateful, and ready to pass down what you have learned to others!
We are thankful for Naomi for sharing her story, if you want to hear more stories like this, each week on our GUIMEDIC official Instagram page we post a #VolunteerViernes where volunteers share information about their experiences with GUIMEDIC. You can find us @Guimedic_Mx.
To learn more about how brigades work and how to get involved in one, you can look through the following PDF document made just for this purpose.