Reflection on my Trip to Guatemala by Calla Schmid

On July 30, 2022, I traveled to San Raymundo, Guatemala on a medical mission trip through Case Western Reserve University. I went into this trip with no expectations of what I would witness, experience, and adventure through. Instead, I kept an open mind and an open heart, knowing I would navigate through language barriers to build connections with the staff and with my patients. My biggest fear prior to the trip was if I had enough understanding of medical knowledge to both treat and educate my patients based on their individual needs. This idea loomed over my head for weeks prior to the start of the trip and I questioned whether it was the right decision to partake in this experience all together. However, I was able to overcome this initial fear with the support of those around me and my desire to want to help those less fortunate in any way I could. Ultimately, I knew I was ready to dive into this medical experience in the beautiful country of Guatemala.

When reflecting back on the trip, it was undeniable that days were long and tiring, yet filled with so many memories and experiences that will be ingrained in me forever. The first feeling I had during the trip was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I was thankful to be given the opportunity to travel to Guatemala with individuals from all over the country, to gather for one main purpose: to help others in need. It was an incredible feeling to be surrounded by so many amazing people who had a desire to improve the lives of those less fortunate. From surgeons, to dentists, to nurses and laboratory / pharmacy technicians, to students and even those with no medical background, we all integrated ourselves together to form one highly functioning clinic. I was inspired by everyone’s willingness to help out in the clinic wherever they were needed, even if it wasn’t a “role” they were necessarily familiar with. Days were long, and tensions were high, but one thing that always remained was the support we had for one another. There was never a lack of helping hands nearby to answer questions or provide guidance. I remember looking around one day in the middle of a busy clinic day and just smiling. In that moment, I felt so appreciative to be given the opportunity to be standing where I was and knew I was truly surrounded by so much love, warmth, and kindness. This was not necessarily feeling that can even me explained to others or even myself, but will simply remain a sensation that I am appreciative to have felt in such a short time span. This was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am grateful that my anxiety didn’t get the best of me to and prevent me from taking this leap of faith to travel here.

            After experiencing extensive, difficult clinic days with complex patients, a strong bond of mutual trust and support was formed between all of the staff members. In particular, there were seven students that traveled together from Case Western University, all ranging from various specialties and programs. We only knew of each other’s names at the start of the trip and started off the experience with surface level discussions to understand each other’s backgrounds. However, since we were placed in such a vulnerable situation from the beginning, our weaknesses were exposed, and we had to lean of each other for encouragement. Everyone was feeling such a variety of emotions – scared, anxious, nervous, excited, and everything in-between – but we recognized we were never alone. Throughout all the tears and the laugher, we knew we were all going through this rollercoaster together. We always had each other for continuous support, and I can say with confidence that I grew to learn more about these fellow students than some people I have worked with back at home in the states for years. In the end, I was able to witness a strong personal growth in each one of these students; students that I now call some of my best friends. These long-lasting friendships that were formed in Guatemala will stay with me forever, and for that, I am truly grateful.

            The biggest inspiration and touching moments came from what was gathered and learned was from my patients. Some of these patients traveled as far as nine hours away to wait in line overnight in hopes to be seen in the clinic the following day. This dedication was admirable and was a true testament to how resilient and hard working the Guatemalans were. Their lifestyle and jobs require them to work hard, usually doing tedious housework or manual labor in the fields day in and day out, for barely any money. However, this is all they knew since they were raised to work tirelessly in order to support their family. These are strong, admirable qualities that every person should possess to some capacity, and qualities that are often lacking from Americans since opportunities are often granted, not earned. Overall, I did not have a single patient complain about the long wait times, even after waiting several hours to be seen. Instead, they would enter the room with a smile on their face and feel grateful to just be physically seen by a healthcare professional. For most patients there, this is the first time in years they have sought medical advice, and genuinely just felt appreciative for the opportunity to be there. It is hard to comprehend or try to understand what it would be like to have little to no access to healthcare and the underlying fear of the “unknown” that Guatemalans face when it comes to their own health. I wish I could provide the community with unlimited resources and support because everyone deserves to live a long, healthy, prosperous life. With that said, I wanted to make the most of my experience in the clinic and help the patient’s in any way I could in order to give each individual the best chance of survival moving forward.

            As I reflect on personal growth, I believe I went through a full mental, physical, and emotional experience during the days spent in San Raymundo. First, I believe that I was able to learn how to take the time listen. Listening to those around me and taking the opportunity to get to know each person reflects the active process of patience and ultimately, helps develop interpersonal relationships with my peers. Listening builds a center for trust, as well as demonstrates willingness to engage and show consideration for other’s thoughts. Often, it is easy to merely listen in order to just to be able to subconsciously respond, instead of taking the time to process what the other person is saying and have an intent to understand. The importance of this was demonstrated during each patient interaction to best understand their concerns as well as their lifestyle/culture in an effort to create a treatment plan that most appropriately suited their needs. In addition to improvements in my listening skills, I also learned that there are always opportunities to learn and continue to educate myself, even if I feel out of my comfort zone. Prior to the trip, I previously mentioned how anxious I was to partake in this experience since I believed I didn’t have enough knowledge to accurately care for the patients. However, I was able to realize that it is acceptable not to know everything, and to take the opportunity to utilize the resources around me to learn and grow. Being able to ask for help and take advice is an important quality to continue to apply as I carry on with my studies and enter into a new career as a nurse practitioner. Lastly, the community I immersed myself in allowed me to have a broadened perspective of the world around me. In America, we are so fortunate with the education and resources we are given to support our quality of life. With that said, being able to witness the poverty firsthand in the medical clinic was eye opening, especially when the patients were so thankful and content with the minimalistic things in life. This proves that it is not what you have or how much you have, but what you do with what you are given that makes all the difference. By gaining this widened perspective, I was able to take a step back and look at my life as a whole in order to take the time to acknowledge what is truly important. I believe that this trip was the reset I needed to remind myself of how grateful I am for all that I have been given in life, as well as remember to prioritize what truly matters – health and family. The people of San Raymundo have positively impacted me for the rest of my life, so I have to say thank you, Guatemala.

This is me in the courtyard outside of the medical clinic in San Raymundo with my translator, Anna. This was from our first day of clinic.

This is me in the courtyard outside of the medical clinic in San Raymundo with my translator, Anna. This was from our first day of clinic.

This is me with my translator, Anna, and another nurse practitioner student, Michelle. We were assisting as helping hands in both the OR and the PACU once we finished with our individual clinics for the day.

This is me with my translator, Anna, and another nurse practitioner student, Michelle. We were assisting as helping hands in both the OR and the PACU once we finished with our individual clinics for the day.

examining a cervical smear in order to identify the STD based on the identified cells.

Me examining a cervical smear in order to identify the STD based on the identified cells.

all of the nurse practitioner students and two of our preceptors in the main area of the clinic. This is the area where the students consulted with the preceptors after seeing the patients in our assigned rooms.

All of the nurse practitioner students and two of our preceptors in the main area of the clinic. This is the area where the students consulted with the preceptors after seeing the patients in our assigned rooms.

This is a photo with my translator, Anna, and one of my most memorable patients. It was suspected that she had hyperthyroidism, however, she was unable to afford to get her thyroid labs checked so the clinic paid for her lab as well as provided her with dinner since she was not able to afford adequate food. As a thank you she came back the next day with her thyroid lab results and made this sign as an appreciation of her gratitude. The sign says “thank you for your solidarity towards us Refuge International.”

This is a photo with my translator, Anna, and one of my most memorable patients. It was suspected that she had hyperthyroidism, however, she was unable to afford to get her thyroid labs checked so the clinic paid for her lab as well as provided her with dinner since she was not able to afford adequate food. As a thank you she came back the next day with her thyroid lab results and made this sign as an appreciation of her gratitude. The sign says “thank you for your solidarity towards us Refuge International.”

me with my preceptor, Courtney, completing a ear lavage for cerumen disimpaction.

me with my preceptor, Courtney, completing a ear lavage for cerumen disimpaction.

This is a photo of me along side of a SRNA student, Jeff, and the general surgery team participating in a right sided mastectomy

This is a photo of me along side of a SRNA student, Jeff, and the general surgery team participating in a right sided mastectomy.