By: Jennifer Tran-Kiem
One student shares how visiting Peru inspired her to wait on medical school.
A year ago, I started to wonder if I had traveled enough and if I was satisfied with the experiences I’ve had so far. As the end of my junior year was coming to a close, I found myself making a tough decision about whether I should apply to medical school right away or take a gap year.
Why I decided to take a gap year
As an aspiring physician, taking undergraduate classes in biology, chemistry, and psychology reinforced my curiosity about how the world works. I craved learning opportunities in the medical field, and so decided early on to travel to Peru for some hands-on experience during my sophomore year.
Reflecting back to my study abroad trip to Peru, I realized what a meaningful experience it was. I knew that I wouldn’t have the leisure to travel in medical school as I did during my undergrad years. After much debate, I determined that I wanted to explore my other interests, and so am now planning on taking a gap year before continuing on with my medical education.
What I learned from my experience in Peru
It was the winter break of my sophomore year that I found myself lost in the Lima airport, wondering how to get to my hostel. It was my first time traveling outside the US, and it was indeed scary and exhilarating. At the time, I had taken only one introductory class in Spanish. Immediately after I stepped out of the airport in Lima, the world I knew fell away, and I found myself deeply out of my comfort zone. Yet, I still somehow managed to communicate with a cab driver in broken Spanish to get to where I was going.
On my trip, I volunteered to work in several clinics through the HealthYouth program. In the clinic, I worked closely with medical staff to obtain vitals and medical history, which also exposed me to the unfortunate impact poverty had on the patients and the health care system as a whole. There was one thing that really struck me: Patients had to pay for medical gloves out of pocket. In the United States, boxes of gloves were readily available to the medical staff, so it was to my astonishment that boxes of gloves were nowhere to be found in Peruvian clinics. In the event that the patient can’t afford to pay for gloves, the medical staff may proceed with treatment anyway, risking infection.
After witnessing how poverty really affects the health care setting at the individual level, I became interested in working in the field of public health. This travel experience helped me realize that I want to create and implement policy to enhance medical services in lower socioeconomic communities.
What I hope to gain from my gap year
Two weeks in Peru changed my perceptions of health care and nurtured my enthusiasm for working in public health. Now, as I look forward to taking a gap year before medical school, I can’t even imagine what else I can discover and accomplish in a year.
Peru was an awesome experience for me, especially with how many opportunities I got with the little Spanish I knew. I left with incredible stories to tell, realizations about myself, and new goals (including becoming fluent in Spanish). I am very happy with my decision to take a gap year and excited to discover what’s in store for me.