With the generous support of the Family Medicine Education Fund (FMED) I had the privilege to work and study at Pop Wuj, a non-profit organization in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Pop Wuj is a Spanish school with a medical clinic and several public health outreach programs that students participate in while learning Spanish. My medical work while at Pop Wuj was split between primary care at the clinic and public health community outreach through mobile clinics, a nutrition program and a safe stove building project.
At Pop Wuj clinic I saw a combination of the chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as acute illnesses such as diarrhea and parasitic infections. Much chronic disease management was similar to Ventura, but other diseases, such as some parasitic infections, I had not treated before. Many patients who visited the clinic lived in outside Mayan villages and often sought the help of a village healer or midwife before seeking a physician’s help. This added additional challenges and learning opportunities as we sought to provide culturally sensitive, but effective care.
The nutrition outreach at Pop Wuj consisted of sites in three villages where children ages 6 months through 2 years old came monthly to be weighted, examined by a physician and given nutritional supplements. Mothers of the children were given prenatal vitamins for themselves, regardless of pregnancy status, children’s vitamins for all other siblings and teaching on family planning. As part of the outreach I helped with the educational program, assisted in examining patients and helped prepare supplies for each trip. I found this an effective public health outreach due to the continuity with monthly visits and the focus on prevention. I would love to use a similar model in a developing country in the future.
Finally, the Safe Stove Project at Pop Wuj, was a project where families were taught and assisted in building stoves within their homes with a cooking surface and chimney, instead of using an open fire. This helped prevent prevalent pulmonary diseases in children and adults that are caused by fumes. Safe stoves also served to prevent burns experienced by women and children cooking or playing near an open fire. For the safe stove project I helped present the educational program to women about the health benefits of using a safe stove as well as helped build a stove in a home one morning.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to study and serve in Guatemala. I found my time at Pop Wuj enriching and I would love to return in the future to continue to study and serve. I grew in my language ability and experienced effective medical and public health outreach in a developing country. I know I will use this in future practice abroad. Furthermore, upon return I am happy to see how it has benefited my relationship with my Spanish-speaking patients in Ventura. Not only do I feel more confident and capable to converse in Spanish, but I have a better cultural context to approach our relationship.
Dr. Alicia Parsons, PGY2