Elena Deetjen - Medicine & Healthcare in Argentina
I spent five weeks in Argentina and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. As I’ve always wanted to study medicine, a volunteer experience abroad was ideal.
Arriving in Argentina
After a very long and exhausting journey I finally arrived in Argentina. I was immediately brought to my host family who straight away welcomed me and showed me my room. Sharing a room with two other volunteers made it easier to settle in. My host-dad, my host-mum, their little son and the two other volunteers were my family for the five weeks in Argentina.
I soon started to feel more comfortable in the house and also outside, trying to get more familiar with the Argentinian culture every day and also trying to use some Spanish vocabulary when asking the locals small things such as directions. This helped me to gain confidence when speaking my basic Spanish. I soon realised that Argentinian people are extremely friendly and very proud of their culture. Kisses and hugs were never missed on a normal day.
My medical placement
I was placed at the Hospital Pediátrico del Niño Jesús, the biggest children’s hospital in the area. The health care system and also the organisation of the hospital is different to what I am used to. However, the doctors and nurses are caring and extremely friendly with their patients. I worked in many diverse departments such as dermatology, surgery, kinesiology, ophthalmology, emergency and radiology. Sometimes, the doctors were willing to let me listen to the breathing of the new-borns and children with the stethoscope or allowed me to hold the children during the treatments.
The doctors and nurses soon realised that I was eager to see many procedures, diagnosis and treatments of different conditions. Therefore, they explained everything in detail and allowed me to stay as long as I wanted. Sometimes, I would wake up one or two hours earlier than my normal time schedule to see an interesting surgery or sometimes, I came in the late afternoons to have a work shift in the Guardia Department as the emergency department is busier in the evenings.
The five weeks I have been at the hospital I have seen more than I ever would have imagined. My favourite departments were the kinesiology and surgery department, not only because I have seen incredible interested treatments and diagnosis but also because the doctors were welcoming and very kind.
Differences from home
As everyone can imagine the language was one of the main differences from home. Very few people speak English in Argentina and it definitely makes your trip easier if you have at least a basic understanding of Spanish. Having a Spanish dictionary by your side will help you out a lot as you can look up the words whenever you need to.
Food was different from home. It was mostly beef. My host dad, a chef, always cooked us nice lunches and delicious dinners. Meal times are also different from what you might use to. In my host-family dinner was between 9 and 10pm, whereas lunch was always when we got back after work between 12:30 and 2:00pm.
I never got used to the fact when other volunteers and I went out for dinner at around 8pm the waitress would give us the menu for the afternoon tea and cake instead of the dinner menu as Argentinians would not eat before 9.30pm.
When I finished working at around 1 or 2 pm. I had plenty of time to discover the city. Especially in the first week I sometimes just took a bus into the city with another volunteer and we spent time walking around the city.
Also, every Wednesday a social was organised by one of the coordinators which was and is a perfect opportunity to meet the new volunteers. One social was an especially good evening as all the volunteers where cooking a dish from their home country and later we brought them all to the Project Abroad office and ate all the international dishes together - it was an evening full of laughter.
When you are not working (on weekends for example) you have the opportunity to travel around the country or even further. Most of the time a group of volunteers and I travelled around Argentina exploring the most beautiful places. I went to Salta, Buenos Aires, Mendoza and to places around the city, Córdoba. When you start travelling you will see and hear all about these amazing places and landscapes you should visit and will not have enough time during your placement for all of them. That’s why you definitely should consider some travelling after or even before your placement starts. If you are not familiar with the Spanish language I would consider going travelling after your placement as by the time you finish your work your Spanish vocabulary gets a lot better.
Leaving Argentina - back to reality!
The medicine I have seen in the past five weeks has not only made me incredible excited for what is ahead of me (I want to study medicine) but has also taught me a lot. During my conversations with the doctors and nurses I observed the difficulties they encounter during working days and how they overcame them. Also, I have seen a range of departments that helped me get a better medical overview and insight into the daily life of a doctor or a nurse.
Saying goodbye to all the lovely people I met the last five weeks was harder than expected. They will always have a special place in my heart - just like Argentina itself.