Project Guatemala

Jose Pac interned at the hospital in 2019. (Mitchell Clokey / McDaniel Free Press).

Over the summer of 2019, student Jose Pac participated in a medical internship with his home town’s hospital, the Hospital Regional de Occidente Guatemala. The program consisted of over 50 medical students working in the traumatology department to provide assistance to doctors, such as bringing out records, exams, X-rays, blood work, or any paperwork the doctor needs. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, medical students would help diagnose and direct patients to the departments which could help them. Students would then spend their Tuesdays and Thursdays shadowing the surgeries the doctors would perform until the afternoon. During his time there, Pac observed many alarming details regarding the condition of this hospital’s equipment and staffing.

Equipment concerns ranged from inefficient lighting that was either too bright or too dim for surgeries, the use of industrial drills during operations rather than surgical drills, and dated operating room beds that limited the doctors’ ability to see more patients. In regard to staffing, the Hospital Regional de Occidente Guatemala is severely understaffed, which lowers the quality of care that medical professionals can provide. By 4:30 a.m. every morning, a long line of people from all over the state forms in front of the hospital doors. This means that doctors can only give each patient about six minutes of their time, when the recommended care is 15 minutes per patient.

This hospital in particular offers access to areas of medicine that are not available in other areas of the state, causing people to travel long distances to use its resources. Although it is helpful that so many services are offered, this creates a higher demand on the staff because of the great volumes of people coming in. Another reason people choose to come to this hospital is because it is publicly funded and therefore all the citizens can afford care. Patients are often from low income backgrounds and rely on the public hospital to help them with their medical concerns. Wealthier members of the state pay to go to private hospitals where the services are much better because there is a lower demand on the staff.

Pac recalled that one woman who came in to have a ball joint replaced in her hip could not be helped due to the lack of funding. The doctors had to fundraise to get the money for the prosthetic ball they were putting in her hip, but it did not fit properly, and they had to remove it. In order to get the proper size, the doctors had to fundraise again and even considered paying for it themselves, but the part had to be custom-made again. Because of this, the woman could not have her hip surgery completed at the time and the doctors had to send her home with a floating hip. She will now have to wait months to have the surgery while she sits around in pain.

The Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity will be hosting a number of fundraising events over the fall and spring semesters to purchase some of the desperately needed hospital equipment. Pac felt the internship experience was very enriching to his understanding of the medical field, but also introduced him to the hardships of underfunded hospitals. These fundraisers would be aimed to purchase either medical lights or surgical drills so that surgeries could be performed in a safer manner. This initiative is aimed at helping the global community by providing resources that improve the quality of life for people in other countries.