This past summer we had a number of amazing student groups join us in Panama. One of those was from the Master of Science in Global Medicine program at USC. A couple of the students from that group were willing to share their experience with us. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Natalie Reyes.-Kim Olpin Operational Manager
Traveling to Bocas del Toro, Panama to work with the Floating Doctors team has been one of the most humbling and eye-opening adventures of my life. I have always had a passion for working with under-served populations that have limited healthcare access, however, actually being there on these islands with the indigenous populations was a much more gratifying and awakening experience than I could ever have imagined. The amazing personalities of the doctors, volunteers, and villagers that I got the opportunity to work with truly remind me of the reason I have such a strong passion for medicine and reflect the environment I hope to be surrounded by.
The experience that Floating Doctors exposed me to on my first day of clinic on the islands taught me so much medically and culturally and allowed everyone within our group to find our own niche within the different roles necessary for a successful clinic. After traveling on a boat bringing all of our medical supplies, we arrived at the community of Cerro Brujo and I was pleasantly enlightened to be greeted by many of the village’s children who could not be more eager and excited to follow us around and talk to us. While many stayed to set up the clinic outdoors, I followed two of the young boys who took me around the entire villaeg, finding houses to let the mothers know we were having a free medical clinic in “el ranchito,” in the central part of the village. I was in complete awe at how rural and isolated these people were from the society I am used to in the United States. Seeing how eager and sweet the children are is an experience worth more than words or photos can reflect. Despite hearing stories of past experiences and being aware of what to expect on the islands, I was surprised by the culture shock I experienced. The villager’s barefoot, simplistic lifestyle was such a difficult,
yet inspiring concept for me to understand. I enjoying being able to get to know entire families during intake and I learned so much from being able to shadow the variety of doctors and medical students throughout the clinic day. It was unreal being able to bring an ultrasound machine into the village and show expectant mothers their child. In one particular instance, we were able to show a mother the heartbeat of her child on the ultrasound screen in the middle of an outdoor, crowded, rural “ranchito” and that is a memory that I will keep with me throughout my medical career.
The ability to practice medicine and help people in the absence of modern day access to technology and hospitals is completely remarkable. Regardless how much time and passion I put into volunteering and immersing myself in the culture of these people, what they taught me and the experience they gave me is worth more than anything I can ever give back to them. I truly thank Floating Doctors for giving me such an opportunity and look forward to returning in the future!