Volunteer Honduras: I have had a good experience as a medical volunteer in La Ceiba, Honduras through A Broader View. I chose to do a program like this because I want a career change and medicine is a new career path I have been considering.
1.-How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
Rafael was very welcoming and kind. He was helpful in getting me oriented to the hospitals and introducing me to key people there. On an ongoing basis, he checked-in with me to make sure if I was having a good experience. Yet he also correctly assessed that I could manage independently as well and he gave me the room to do that. He was also very flexible with altering the schedules to accommodate sufficient rest, occasional outings, and the type of medical volunteering opportunities of which I wanted to take advantage.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
At the program: The most surprising thing is how exhausting it is to work in a different health care system in a different language. My brain would tire from constant attention to understanding Spanish and learning new systems.
At the accommodation: I was surprised to learn that Rafael was not only my coordinator, but also my host. It was very helpful though because we could chat about how things were going over meals and he could help decipher some of the days’ puzzles from the hospital.
I also was surprised at how “suburban” the area is. In many ways it didn’t feel like the typical neighborhood and life of what I have become accustomed in Central America.
About the country: I have traveled a fair amount in Central America so I was pretty prepared with my expectations – except how suburban it would be.
3- What was most difficult to experience?
At the program:
Just living everyday without the certainty of knowing what is going on around me – due to the different medical systems and the language. I just had to be okay with not understanding a lot, as well as with taking responsibility for the quality of my own experience.
At the accommodation: I was quite happy with the accommodation. Probably the most difficult part for me is that there were other english speakers there for me so it was hard to be immersed in Spanish as much as I would have liked.
The country: I think there is a cultural difference in how the Hondurans present themselves to someone they first meet (at least at the hospitals). My experience was that it often felt like the nurses and doctors were dismissive, disinterested, or not very happy to have me there. But I learned that if I extended myself a few times, they were surprisingly welcoming, friendly, and healthy.
4- Any tips for future volunteers…
– surgery cap
– blood pressure cuff
– thermometers – non-digital
– athletic tape
– ace wraps
– don’t bring items to donate such as alcohol wipes, ointments, fancy bandages because they will only be a novelty and probably not used – and certainly not something they will invest in buying in the future.
Volunteering in Honduras
4.1 -Other things volunteers should know:
a.- Knowing a fair amount of Spanish is definitely helpful
b.- Spend time at the hospital helping with some of the more mundane tasks such as restocking items needed on a daily basis, making gauze pads, putting together paperwork. The nurses will appreciate it hugely and they will give back by teaching you even more.
c.- This is not really a volunteer program as much as it is a volunteer opportunity. Very little is actually set in stone or set up. You have to be okay with lots of ambiguity and you are really the one responsible for the form, day-to-day experiences, and the quality of your experience. So, be direct with the nurses and doctors about what you want to do., such as only observe, or focus wound care, or learn how to insert IVs. If you tell them, and remind them, they will give you the opportunity, if you don’t tell them, they likely won’t suggest it.
d.- Pace yourself. It can be really tiring and frustrating so give yourself room to take an afternoon off, or go in late, if it helps with your energy level.
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial), don’t leave blank:
I have had a good experience as a medical volunteer in La Ceiba, Honduras through A Broader View. I chose to do a program like this because I want a career change and medicine is a new career path I have been considering. Before committing to it, I wanted some more direct experience to inform my decision. I knew it can be very difficult to get real hands-experience like this in the U.S., but I also knew that those restrictions don’t exist in many developing countries. This, along with my love of experiencing new places and cultures, made a medical volunteering program the perfect opportunity to “try on” the job of ER nurse.
I certainly got hands-on experience. From simple cleaning of wounds to response to cardiac infarctions, from inserting IVs to early labor care, I was able to practice skills I already had and learn new ones and new techniques. The volume of patients allowed for many chances to improve skills and communication.
In addition to the hands on experience, I was able to assist with more advanced procedures and to observe surgeries close to the side of surgeon performing the operation.
What I found most fascinating though was the resourcefulness of the doctors and nurses. Without the benefit of advanced technologies and supplies, these personnel relied more on the tried and true techniques of medicine. They were also inspiringly creative in making their own “technology and supplies” to serve the same purposes but using the things they have on hand. For me, this was an invaluable aspect to experience.
I am happy with the experience I have had here and will remember it fondly as I move into my new career as a nurse.