Nuestra Esperanza

Natalie Castillo

I never thought I’d be back in Guatemala with the same medical team I came with 4 years ago. Though in a different town, I still feel that same sense of humility I felt the first time. 

Just like many others on this trip, I too was once an undergraduate student with a dream of becoming a medical professional and coming back to the county that strengthened my resolve to follow this path. It’s been amazing to see the same individuals come back as trained healthcare providers, now with a more skilled perspective. 

I spent most of our days in clinic working with Dr. Richard. My first year in medical school gave me some insight into patient interviewing and physical exam skills, so I had the opportunity to do just that with Richard’s guidance. To no one’s surprise, the very first patient I saw was not an easy one. Not so much because of his complaint, but because of his lack of findings which prevented us from giving him an answer. With no ability to do chest x-rays, ECGs, echocardiograms, or exercise stress tests, we are limited in our ability to diagnose a chest complaint. But I soon realized that this would be a trend throughout our trip. For many of our patients we had to improvise and work with what we had or do our best to get them an appointment with a specialist around the area. The lack of resources is evident, but even more so the resilience in the medical team we work with in La Ciudad and the patients who live here.

Dr Richard and I found ourselves running into patients he had seen the year prior. Last year’s medical team was the first to come to La Ciudad de Esperanza, and yet so many individuals remembered their visits with him. It was moving to see the connection and the trust they had formed. This reinforced the value in creating a sustained partnership with communities like these. The continuation of healthcare and capacity building was why I became so interested in the work this team did. Many of the students who came last year told me that the size of the clinic had doubled since then; the clinic had only one floor with two rooms then, and now it had a second floor with a pharmacy, dental room, and two other rooms for administration. We saw first hand what it means to build capacity. 

It truly is a blessing to be able to be a part of something so empowering like this and to experience teamwork and community like we do here. One moment I’m interviewing a patient with Dr. Richard, the next I’m watching a tooth extraction with Dr. Christian, then helping with patients in glasses, and even learning about physical therapy with our PT Deb. And throughout these moments I understood the integral part each person plays in providing holistic healthcare. Most importantly, I realized the most valuable player here is always the patient. After all, we would not be here without them. 



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