Fourth-year student Emma Hershey spent a month this summer in the Kausay Wasi Clinic in Coya, in southern Peru, where she had visited many times as a volunteer medical interpreter. Until this year, Hershey’s role had been to translate for a Boston-based general surgery team that regularly visits the clinic, but this year marked her first clinical experience there.
“Returning this time as a visiting student, I hoped to more fully understand the broad spectrum of care provided at the clinic, and the needs of the population that they serve beyond surgical cases,” Hershey said. “Much of my time was spent in what equates to a family medicine clinic, working one on one with the clinic’s primary care doctor to see patients.”
Launched and operated as an NGO by a former US foreign services officer and Peru native, Kausay Wasi offers an array of services to the local population and an alternative to the crowded public clinics and costly private ones. Funded in part by a Woll Scholarship, Hershey’s rotation this August and September included clinical observation as well as a research component. She planned a project to survey members of the visiting global surgical teams for perspectives on their time at Kausay Wasi, how it could have been improved, and how it compared to other global surgery trips they had taken part in.
“I spoke with members of the surgical team as possible to try to understand attitudes focused on the quality of care being delivered by the global surgery team,” Hershey said. “I plan to conduct more interviews when I return in January.”
In addition to her time in the clinic, Hershey worked with a visiting ophthalmology surgical group, interviewing the team members as well as translating for patients before and after their surgeries. A few times each week, she also shadowed a community health worker on in-home visits for patients in remote villages. One commonality Hershey observed across nearly all patients was a lack of health literacy.
“Patients with longstanding hypertension or diabetes were almost never aware of the long-term nature of their conditions. Almost daily I would have conversations with patients who stopped their medication after an initial three-month course, thinking they had been cured,” she said. “When I return on the next general surgery trip, I will think of this experience as I counsel patients post-operatively about their care.”
Her experience will inform not only continued efforts to help in Peru, but Hershey’s approach to her career as she leaves UMMS next year. She is pursuing residency training in otolaryngology.
“I hope to end up in a program where I will continue to improve my medical interpretation,” she said. “Looking more long-term, I hope to have a leadership role in this clinic, and this trip allowed me the time to have more serious discussions with the clinic directors about what a future role might look like, and to develop deeper relationships with the Peruvian staff who I hope to partner with in the future.”