Notes from the field: Practicing medicine in Costa Rica

Notes from the field: Practicing medicine in Costa Rica

Practicing medicine in Costa Rica

Catherine La CarpioOver the past six weeks, fifteen healthcare professionals from Colorado traveled to Costa Rica with Common Ground’s Spring 2010 Medical Mission. They lived with Costa Rican families, studied Medical Spanish, and provided medical treatment in local communities where many people have little or no healthcare.

The clinical work ranged from making house calls in extremely poor neighborhoods to setting up afternoon clinics in schools for children that had been identified as needing medical attention. Armed with abundant medical donations they’d collected before the trip, the participants were at once well-prepared yet seriously limited due to the circumstances and facilities. However, logistical challenges aside, issues of culture, language, and education brought to bear some of the most unexpected obstacles.

Cultural & Social Challenges

A few examples of the conversations the program participants had to navigate include:

  • Convincing a young woman of the importance of a pelvic exam, despite the commonly-held belief that “good girls” shouldn’t need to be examined.
  • Calming children who think that seeing a doctor automatically means getting a shot (injections are used to treat a very broad range of ailments in Costa Rica).
  • Understanding why so many people in poor communities are convinced they have bichos (worms) or need to be desparasitado (de-wormed), when symptoms are vague or not currently present.
  • Offering helpful advice to parents who understand their children to be dealing with nervios – a very widely used term that can refer to anything from stress to a panic disorder.
  • Explaining how childhood tooth decay happens and can be prevented.
  • Trying to offer helpful advice to a mother who believes her daughter’s intense fear of earthquakes is linked to the fact that she herself gets panicky when there are strong winds or rain.

Resourcefulness goes a long way in Latin America, and our medical teams learned quickly to be resourceful not only in terms of supplies, time, and space, but also in terms of language. They were challenged daily to come up with explanations & advice that would both bridge the cultural gap and provide positive guidance without offending or alienating those who came seeking help. And, by tackling such a challenge within the context of medicine – their area of expertise – all were able to grow significantly in both the command of the Spanish language and true cultural understanding.

To learn more about Common Ground’s Medical Missions — including those coming up this summer, click here.


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