Window to the world

Second year medical student Andy McKinlay travelled to Arequipa in Peru
as part of his overseas medical placement with Work the World.

My clinical placement in Peru was the most unique and valuable experience of my life.

In the week before arriving in Arequipa - the city in which I undertook my medical placement - my friends and I travelled in a tour bus down the west side of Peru, from Lima to Arequipa.

The tour gave us an introduction to local Peruvian culture, and conversation fuel for when we started in the hospital.

We arrived in Arequipa in the early hours of the morning when the rest of the country was fast asleep. 

I’ll admit that my first day in the hospital was daunting.

The local Work the World team introduced me to the staff I was to spend time with, and then I was on my own.

Local hospital staff were forgiving of my poor Spanish, and there was always someone willing to try to help me understand.

I quickly learned that to get the most from my time at the hospital, I needed to be outgoing, proactive, and friendly.

I took it upon myself to ask questions and get involved. 

I spent four weeks in two departments: Obstetrics and Gynaecology (OBG) and Internal Medicine.

Being alongside mothers from labour to delivery made OBG an amazing experience.

In Internal Medicine, I spent time with a different specialist each day.

I gained experience with cardiology, respiratory, gastrointestinal, mental health, and neurology.

The variety of medicine I was exposed to was incredible.

I assisted with ultrasounds, ECGs and CPR, and a local intern friend even brought me along on an ambulance ride.

Of course, the other value in studying medicine in a place like Arequipa is getting a sense of how poorer patients, and hospitals with less resources, find a way to make the best of what they have.

All of the doctors I saw were amazing.

On a number of occasions I was blown away by their resourcefulness, as well as the fortitude of the patients.

One of the things that made my time in Arequipa so special was having the chance to live with like-minded students from all over the world.

We got along well, enjoying nights out and travelling at weekends together.

More importantly, my housemates and I learned from and supported one another in the hospital.

I can’t imagine a more rewarding way to experience a placement.

We went white-water rafting, and in the evenings after placement attended chocolate making classes, dance classes, and toured the local bars, cafes, and restaurants.

Peruvian cuisine was delicious.

We also visited Mundo Alpaca, an ecological tourism complex with Andean colonial architecture and free-roaming alpaca.

Unashamedly, one of the main reasons I chose to go to Peru was the unrivalled opportunity for travel.

My friends and I were out exploring the country every weekend.

We relaxed on Mollendo beach, hiked into Colca Canyon, and stayed on a floating village on Lake Titicaca.

I also took on the challenge of climbing Mount Misti...

The dormant volcano looms 5800 metres, or more than 19,000 feet, over Arequipa.

It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever undertaken, but the views from the top were incredibly rewarding.

And needless to say, Machu Picchu was magical.

We also visited Cusco, Rainbow Mountain, and the Amazon rainforest.

There was no shortage of things to do.

I fell in love with Peru.

It was such a diverse country, with some of the friendliest people I had ever met.

Work the World, the organisation with whom I travelled, was so well established in the liveable and lovely city of Arequipa.

The resources and support of the staff were spectacular, the atmosphere was one of fun and teamwork, and the hospital was a unique and valuable learning environment.

To say that I learned more about different cultures, medicine, and myself over the few months I was in Peru than ever before would not be overstating it.

With a positive attitude and an enthusiasm for learning, I am certain that anyone else considering an overseas placement will have an amazing journey.

I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Work the World tailors healthcare elective and placement opportunities for students and professionals, with the chance to experience unique and diverse cultures.