TouroCOM Students Lend a Helping Hand in Peru

Out of the Classroom and Into the Community, First- and Second-Year Students Learn the Reality of Practicing Medicine

March 04, 2014
First- and second-year students at TouroCOM visited Peru in December, working with patients in a health clinic and at an orphanage.
First- and second-year students at TouroCOM visited Peru in December, working with patients in a health clinic and at an orphanage.

It was an elevating experience, putting osteopathic medical techniques into practice helping impoverished residents of Cuzco, Peru. The annual program, which took place from December 16-23, 2013, encourages first- and second-year students to work in foreign clinics, giving up their winter break to do so.

This year, 29 students worked in a health clinic, an orphanage and even the local zoo in this Andes mountain city. They served those with chronic pain, respiratory problems, and parasites in a country where they could not even drink the water, and where medical practice was not the gleaming, sterile encounter they were used to in America.

In addition to being a “window into another culture,” according to Ruchi Vikas, a second-year TouroCOM student, the trip showed students that “we can make do if we only have our brain, to not be crippled by easy accessibility to technology.”

One high point was the treatment of a patient who had vertical nystagmus, -“dancing eye,”- with osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT), and seeing direct improvement.

The students lived in homes in Cuzco and were accompanied by Grace Vasconez-Pereira, M.D., D.O. and Janet Grotticelli, D.O. The students would make patient assessments, but the two professors would make sure they were on target with their diagnoses.

“They got to put into practical experience the learning they acquired in school,” said Vasconez-Pereira. “They learn in the laboratory and they go into the communities. They have started medical school, and right away, they are recognizing the challenge and opportunities that physicians face in this part of the world. It opens the door to the reality of the practice of medicine.”

For Ernesto Henderson, it was a glimpse of more than that. “It was quite an experience,” said the first-year-student. “I’ve never lived without hot water or central heating before. It was eye-opening.”

The hands-on experience, working in a community, was invaluable, according to “Govi” Kaushik Govindavaju, another first-year student who went on the trip.

“It was a good way to apply what we had learned from a semester,” he said. “It was a way to put what we had taken from class and cadavers and put it into context.”

The students assisted a woman who had suffered from migraines for years who found relief from the OMT. Most of the children had parasites, some severe enough to cause seizures.

Grotticelli said it was good for the students to see the TouroCOM faculty, one physician from the Primary Care Department and one physician from the Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Department, working together and integrating approaches, just as it was good for them to open a window on a less affluent culture than our own.

“Some of them were overwhelmed by the poverty and lack of medical care, it’s just not the same,” said Grotticelli. “It opened their eyes to see how lucky they are to be where they are, learning what they are learning.”

For her part, Grotticelli said she was impressed with the students’ dedication, and how they took Touro College’s mission of providing for the wider community to heart. “They are really very interested in giving back,” she said. “These students are so dedicated. The second year [students] go straight into wards; they really have no vacation time left after this. And yet they gave it up to work in this underserved community.” The faculty look to experiences such as this to serve as a way to help students maintain focus, expand their awareness of diverse populations and advance the mission of TouroCOM.