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Guatemala International Rotation Empowers PA Students with Clinical, Cultural, and Community Experiences

Guatemala Rotation

by Dr. Jennifer Coombs

In March, eight physician assistant (PA) students, accompanied by three PA faculty members, a pharmacist, and a dental hygienist, embarked on a transformative journey in Guatemala. The Guatemala International elective, designed to provide PA students with comprehensive clinical experiences, medical Spanish immersion, and rich cultural insights, offered a unique opportunity for personal and professional growth.

The program commenced in Antigua, where students engaged in intensive medical Spanish training at the Ixchel language school, benefiting from personalized 1:1 sessions with experienced language instructors. Afternoons were dedicated to immersive cultural activities, enriching students' understanding of Guatemala's vibrant heritage.

Transitioning to San Lucas Toliman, students delved into a rural clinical experience, collaborating closely with local community health promoters associated with the San Lucas Mission. These promoters, trained extensively in basic health practices and selected by community leaders, play a vital role in delivering essential healthcare knowledge, referrals, and support within their communities.

Throughout the rotation, students actively participated in delivering medical care across numerous small communities around San Lucas. This direct engagement not only facilitated equitable healthcare distribution but also allowed students to apply their medical expertise in real-world settings, complemented by their Spanish language proficiency for effective patient communication.

Beyond clinical care, the program immersed students in understanding the broader social determinants of health. They observed and contributed to various local projects such as the Fair-trade coffee initiatives and educational programs. These experiences broadened their perspectives on healthcare's interconnectedness with environmental, economic, and social factors, fostering a holistic approach to patient care.

As part of their Guatemala International rotation, participants had the opportunity to embark on a captivating side excursion to Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most significant Mayan archaeological complexes in Central America. Amidst the lush Guatemalan jungle, students explored ancient temples, pyramids, and ceremonial plazas, immersing themselves in the rich history and cultural heritage of the Mayan civilization.

The Guatemalan International rotation not only equipped PA students with valuable clinical skills and cultural awareness but also instilled a deeper appreciation for community-driven healthcare initiatives and the importance of addressing multifaceted health challenges within diverse populations.