As part of my nursing degree, we have an elective placement. From the word “go” I wanted to go overseas to be able to experiences a healthcare different from my own in the UK. When I saw what Work the World offered, including placements in that part of the world, I knew it was the place for me. The stories and the love that my uncle had shared with me about his time in South America was something I wanted to experience.
I made my first phone call to Work the Work 6 months before my placement, from then on, I received the greatest amount of support from the team. A few days after my initial phone call, I had booked my trip and had my login details for the website. The personal placement planner, MyTrip, was extremely informative and broke everything down into easy step-by-step guides providing a lot more information surrounding not only the placement but the country as well. I had my initial placement phone calls and was told where I would be working and a few days later, it was all displayed on MyTrip.
The week before I left for Peru I was truly wondering what I was getting myself into, the nerves kicked in and it all became very real.
But, I somehow made it through that week and to the airport. Saying goodbye to my family was difficult, but the nerves were gone and pure excitement had taken over. I was desperate to start my adventure. My first flight was a short flight from my home in Jersey to Gatwick Airport, I had a few hours relaxing before my 12-hour flight to Lima, which was the smoothest flight and I felt relaxed and excited for what was ahead.
Once arriving in Lima and getting through customs and collecting my baggage, I was finally ready to experience Peru. As soon as I walked out of the doors it hit me, the noise and the warmth, and the love. I could not believe the volume of people. I had an overnight stay at the hotel across the road, something I had booked 6 months in advance, I felt exhausted by the time I had reached the hotel and so welcomed the break ahead of my final flight to Arequipa.
The flight was a simple one and looking out of the window I had a small glimpse of some of the beauty that is Peru. On landing in Arequipa, I met with the lovely Kandy from the house. The car journey to the house is one I will never forget, it was busy and there just appeared to be cars everywhere I looked and constant beeping… something I soon learnt goes on throughout the day and by the end of my trip I barely even noticed.
On arriving at the house I was nervous and excited, but as it was a Saturday, most of my new housemates were away on weekend trips. I met with some of the staff, and I was then taken out to see the local area.
The next day was when it all started, I met my new roommates and soon there was 24 of us in the house. I can truly say that these were some of the most amazing people I have met and it was incredible to all be on this journey together. Some had been there for longer which was really nice as they knew the area and had gained some knowledge which they shared with us newbies. We had the most incredible time together in the house, each Thursday was salsa and BBQ and then we would go out in the evening to a famed local bar for a little more salsa and partying. The weekends we would split into smaller groups to go out to explore the sights Peru had to offer.
I attended the one week intensive Spanish course organised by Work the World, and yes, it was VERY intense. But, I was in the country to be a part of their healthcare system, so it was a necessity. There were 13 of us doing the Spanish course which was nice as we travelled together, we did one on one sessions and then in the afternoon we did group sessions. Also on a Monday evening, Maria our language tutor, would come to the house to give us further lessons which was very helpful. I was shy at first when I was speaking Spanish but I tried hard to overcome this barrier and the staff supported by correcting and teaching us words.
In no time at all I was all ready for my first day in placement. I was really nervous on my first day but there were other students starting on the same day and we were taken to the hospital by Sonia, the programme manager. She showed us around the hospital buildings and introduced us to the chief nurse. She then took each of us to the areas we would be working in.
I met the hospital staff and we conversed a little, I realised I would need to keep practising my Spanish. I was able to understand more than I was able to speak but the staff were patient with me, I listened to the nurse’s handover and then the doctors did their ward rounds.
Similar to our own, however there were many more staff and the interaction with the patients differed from my own. I then spoke to one of the doctors and asked if I could help him as he appeared to be doing dressing changes on the patients. This doctor was able to speak English, but I encouraged him to speak and teach me Spanish so I could maintain momentum on my learning.
I spent two of my weeks on the women’s surgical bay where I supported the doctor in his dressing changes – the techniques differed from our own, but I listened to nursing handovers, watched medication and observations rounds and listened into the doctor’s ward rounds. As the weeks went by, I understood a little more each time. I had been invited into surgery a few times by the surgeon, the preparation for the surgeries again differed to what I am used to, patients had to bring their own equipment in for their surgeries and this was checked by the medical staff before the operation. If they did not have the correct equipment, the family would be sent to get it. The family took on the caring role supporting patients with dressing, toileting and eating.
My final week in placement was set in theatres, this was something I was very interested in having seen a few surgeries previously. The surgeries I saw were all emergency surgeries, as during my time in Peru there was a doctor’s strike going on – they are striking to get better funding, medical equipment and safer hospitals! I managed to see 3 C-sections, spinal surgery, lots of appendectomies and cholecystectomies. I also watched a large tumour removal and orthopaedic surgery on a child. Their techniques differed in slight ways, like the use of local anaesthetic and spinal blocks rather than general anaesthetic, and all the equipment was sterilised and reused.
The staff were very friendly and welcoming, as we were observing them, we ensured we asked permission to watch the surgeries and made the effort to introduce ourselves. We found when we did this, the staff were very welcoming and would talk us through parts of what they were doing. Peruvians can be very shy people so it is about being brave and taking the first step, something that I would not normally do at home.
I learnt so much from my hospital placement and it gave me a new appreciation for my own healthcare system. I went into my hospital experience very open minded, I was not there to judge, this was their world and their culture, I was merely there to observe a small window of what they went through day in day out.
Finally, our free time was spent seeing as much of Peru as we could. Our first weekend a group of us travelled to Lake Titicaca, we got the overnight bus (a whole new experience – sometimes white knuckling). After arriving in Puno, we went with our tour guide to the floating Islands, where we got our passports stamped. We then got back on the boat and went to another island a few hours away, arriving on the island we met the families we would be staying with and were shown our accommodation. We walked up (4,100m above sea level) and watched the sunset over the mountains which was just incredible! The next day we travelled to another beautiful island and had lunch there before returning home on the bus that evening.
The second weekend we went to Colca Canyon. It is a walking weekend, something that I absolutely loved. We hiked down to the bottom of the canyon—2nd deepest in the world, having lunch on the way, and sleeping in basic accommodation that night, before the 2.5 hour hike out of the canyon.
On my 3rd weekend I was lucky enough that my husband came to join me for a period of time, we explored Arequipa during this time, doing chocolate making, visiting alpacas and going shopping. I would advise you exchanging your money over there, ask the household staff as they know the best places that do the best exchange rate, Work the Work recommend this too – take their advice.
In no time at all, it was time for me to leave Arequipa for the next part of my adventure. I cried so much saying goodbye to all of my new friends that I had made during my time is Arequipa, and I also cried saying goodbye to the household staff, because they had all been so incredibly friendly and supportive to me during my time there. My last tears were when I left the house, as it had felt like my home.
I decided to add on some extra time to my placement with my husband. Our final adventure was to travel to Cuzco, to start our Machu Picchu trek, we got the overnight bus and even got the VIP seats and this was much cheaper than flying! We had two days in Cuzco before we set off on our return journey.
Peru taught me so much, I was not ready to come home and in fact my culture shock only came when I arrived back home after everything I had been through and experienced I could not believe how lucky I was not only to have been to Peru but for a the little things I have in my life. Thank you to Work the Work for making it all so simple, I felt relaxed throughout my trip and any queries were answered and sorted quickly!
My advice would be GO TO PERU and have the adventure of a lifetime like I did!