Fourth-year medical student Erin Stratta (front left in photo above) served in a small community in Peru working on public health issues. She talks to StudentDoc about how her Peace Corps service defined her medical school experience.
Question: What is your med school specialization?
Answer: I’m finishing up my fourth year of medical school at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine. I plan to match into a Family Medicine Residency and continue to work in Primary Care. I hope to get the best training possible to continue working with marginalized populations here and abroad.
I’ve been fortunate to return to Peru three times during medical school, twice to do research or clinical practice. It’s an important part of my medical career; I just spent a month working at a hospital along the Rio Napo in the Amazon. For me, Peru will always be part of the conversation of my life, I truly love and care about a group of people in that country and will always seek out opportunities to return and learn more.
Q: How do you think that your Peace Corps experience will benefit you as an MD personally and professionally? Is the experience helping you in medical school?
A: There are a lot of students that go straight from college through medical school and residency; God bless them, I couldn’t have done that. I was academically exhausted after college and just starving for some “real world” experience; plus I needed some inspiration to push me through the next big step. Peace Corps gave me all those things but also developed this real love of working with people, wild creativity, and patience amidst overwhelming frustration. I’d be hard pressed to find a returned Peace Corps volunteer who can’t talk to just about anybody and make the best of an unfortunate situation; we’re specialists in that! Or at least we learn to laugh it off and learn from it anyways; that’s very unique and vital survival skill.
So much of primary care medicine is supporting behavior change and healthy lifestyles; which is exactly what I did in Peru. I would go so far as to saying Peace Corps defined my medical school experience; I realized I had this unique set of language and cultural skills that was just able to flourish as I studied. I had no idea that being fluent in Spanish and wanting to be a bilingual provider would so drastically influence and mold my medical career.
Q: Did/do you find that other PC health volunteers were also interested in becoming (or inspired to become) doctors or nurses?
A: It’s common for Peace Corps volunteers working in any area to become interested in health care. It’s such a universal need, so even if you’re helping run small business in a South East Asian country, you will absolutely see the effects of public health on people’s lives; and it’s hard not to be awakened by that. I would say a lot of volunteers are inspired to pursue different jobs along the gamut of providing services; social workers, teachers, nurses, pharmacists. The beauty of the Peace Corps is that they have time to sort of find their niche and interest within the world of need; they can find out where they want to fit in the world of health care. I don’t think it’s fair to say many want to become doctors after Peace Corps, but I definitely think many are inspired to pursue diverse careers of service.
Series on International Health Programs
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