Shadowing doctors, checking vitals and dispensing prescriptions may sound like costly training only available at medical school, but for six SF State students it is the experience they can expect on their trip to Lima, Peru next month.
The students are members of Medlife, an organization that partners with poor communities in Latin America to provide medical care, education and community development with mobile clinics that have treated over 100,000 people since 2005, according to the Medlife website.
In Peru, students will work alongside local dentists, gynecologists and general practitioners and assist with health education, according to Adolfo Luna, who participated in the same trip in 2012 and will go again in May.
“A lot of the things that we take as common sense like washing your hands before you treat a wound, these people have no idea about,” Luna said. “We setup a makeshift auditorium and present a Powerpoint to them explaining basic things we take for granted that we know.”
The national organization partners with students and locals to provide health care and community development, according to Adrianna Carlesimo, a student trip advisor at Medlife.
“Our mission is to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty, empowering them to live healthier lives,” Carlesimo said in an email. “Our patients did not choose to be poor, but they have chosen to strive toward a better life (and) Medlife stands behind them in this pursuit.”
As the chapter’s president, Luna said he would like students to know while many organizations offer international aid, Medlife provides services throughout the year and pays for medical treatment until patients are fully healed.
“This isn’t just going there for a week or two and leaving, this organization actually cares about the community and stays and works with the community throughout the year,” Luna said.
Volunteering abroad provides valuable opportunities that are impossible within the United States, Luna said.
“A lot of the things that would be illegal here while working in a hospital you are able to do,” Luna said. “I helped out with (applying) stitches, which I would never be able to do here.”
The group has organized several events to finance the trip, including the Latin Cultural Night fundraiser held at the Cesar Chavez Student Center April 2. At the event, board member Kirsten Liaz said everyone is welcome to volunteer with Medlife.
“You don’t even have to be involved in the pre-health profession,” Liaz said. “If you love to give back you can help us through fundraising or you can help just spread the word of Medlife or other organizations like this.”
The organization’s work reaches beyond healthcare with more than 150 community development projects completed, according to the Medlife website. Volunteers collaborate with local leaders and members of the community to complete projects such as building restrooms, staircases and schools.
“Every person in the community has to take one day off work to help us so they are alongside us,” Luna said. “There are ladies with kids strapped on their backs carrying bags of cement with us.”
Despite having so little, the locals are appreciative of the volunteers and offer them snacks and water while they work, according to Luna.
“It was really eye-opening because a lot of the things that you take for granted like running water to even the toilets, everything is different out there,” Luna said. “The people are so happy, they have nothing, but they are generous and really grateful.”
Luna said dreams of becoming a physician inspired him to help establish the Medlife chapter at SF State, which was officially recognized in January 2012 and became the first state school chapter in the nation.
Luna attributes the group’s success this year to the teamwork and the dedication of new members, like Liaz.
Liaz said she has always loved public health and hopes other students find something they are passionate about as well.
“There’s a bigger world outside of SF State and you can get involved in so many ways,” Liaz said. “It’s important to give back to people that don’t have a voice. There are people who have been marginalized by the system and we cannot forget about them.”