Making the Most of the Experience: Two Holy Family University Students Volunteer in Ecuador

by Alexis Reyes '14

While some college students are working on their spring break tan, two of Holy Family University's very own, Kimberly Pfau and Mahbuba Choudhury, completed a volunteer medical trip to Ecuador. During the trip, they had the opportunity to shadow doctors in a teaching hospital called Carlos Andrade Marin. Shadowing a doctor allows someone to see first-hand just what the doctors really do during a given work day. It also personally allows someone to learn some techniques that they are required to know in the medical field.

 "I wanted to do as much volunteering work as possible," said Pfau. "It not only helps me grow and mature as a person, but it also gives me life experiences that I can carry with me for the rest of my life."

After landing in Ecuador, the students stayed with a host family in the hills of Quito, and they began their training. The learning curve was steep and swift. While shadowing at the hospital, Pfau experienced a moment she will never forget.

"As a young man was quickly rushed into the emergency room after being in a bus accident, the medical students and physicians remained composed at the sight of bloody morbidity," said Pfau. "While standing out of the way of rushing paramedics, I observed the language barriers between the doctors and international students disappear before me. That day, I witnessed a remarkable universal language of medicine arise within the midst of diverse backgrounds. The medical students and physicians worked toward the same goal, the patient, without any restrictions. It was then clear to me, that regardless of the situation, the patient is and will always be the number one priority."

The trip was made possible through Love Volunteers organization. Love Volunteers is a small organization with a handful of people who believe helping others and their communities around the world is the most important thing. They work with local organizations in order to keep administration costs down. The organization gathers as much money as possible to provide for the local communities where they operate. Love Volunteers not only focuses on the need for assistance in other countries but also on the safety and well being of its volunteers. They are committed to placing volunteers in safe, high-quality areas to stay.

"While being in the hospital of Ecuador, a country with minimal sources, I have learned the biggest lesson about being a physician which is the knowledge and the compassion doctors have toward their patient," said Choudhury.

It is safe to say that both of these girls learned and experienced a great deal during this trip; knowledge and experiences that they will be sure to carry with them in their future medical careers.

Both Pfau and Choudhury were two of five students recently interviewed for Holy Family's Pre-Med Committee, comprised of alumni Dr. Keith Lafferty '89 and Mr. Piotr Kopinski '11 and Professors Dr. Daniel Bassi, Dr. Stacy McDonald, and Sister Marcella Louise Wallowicz. All of the students chosen for the interviews were selected due to the fact that they will be applying to medical or professional schools in the near future.

Holy Family will also be introducing a Pre-Med track just in time for the Fall 2014 semester. The Pre-Medical track is a focused set of courses that provide students preparing for careers in the health professions with knowledge of foundational concepts in the biological, biochemical, chemical, physical, and social and behavioral sciences. The track in Pre-Med is a specialization within the Biology curriculum. The track incorporates courses required in the current curriculum with additional science courses recommended by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) and targeted courses in the social and behavioral sciences to provide a foundation in core concept and to prepare premedical students for the 2015 MCAT.

Aside from shadowing in the hospital, Pfau and Choudhury had time to explore Quito. Pfau and Choudhury were thrilled because they arrived on a national holiday in Ecuador called The Carnival. This is a holiday where tourists are sprayed with silly string and water. Some of the tourists are even hit with eggs. "Luckily Mahbuba and I were only sprayed with silly string," joked Pfau.

They explored an attraction called the Teleferico. The Teleferico is a ski lift that took them from the edge of Quito to the Pichincha Volcano. The Pichincha Volcano is just one of the many volcanoes in Quito alone. Here, they had a chance to view the beautiful scenery, mountains, and wildlife. Once the girls had another opportunity to be tourists, they visited La Mitad del Mundo (center of the world). This monument marks the exact line that divides the northern and southern hemispheres. La Mitad del mundo is comprised of many beautiful monuments. Giant mountains surround it. On their last day in Quito, Pfau and Choudhury went on a tour of the Cotopaxi Volcano. The girls were even able to climb to the glacier line. Cotopaxi Volcano is Ecuador's highest active volcano. This is South America's most famous volcano and ranks as number 26 on a list of the most active volcanoes in the world.

"What an experience! Climbing that volcano made us feel like we were on top of the world!" said Pfau.