ND Student Volunteer’s Reflection: Sarah

Reflections by Notre Dame Senior, Sarah Burbank, on her Service Trip to Ecuador

Each summer two students work with AHD to gain a service learning experience in the field through Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.

By Sarah Burbank

It’s 6:15am, and my alarm goes off. Yet with the roosters crowing outside my window, it’s probably not necessary. I roll out of bed, throw my scrubs and bug repellant on, and arrive at the hospital just a few moments later. As a summer volunteer for Andean Health and Development, I live side-by-side with a group of Ecuadorian Family Medicine residents in the tropical, impoverished community of Pedro Vicente Maldonado.

During a typical day, I attend morning rounds, help out in the community health clinic by drawing blood and analyzing patient samples, and teach English at the local high school. However, today is no ordinary day. The head resident informs us that there is a mother in labor, and that we should stick around to observe. A few hours later, I am watching in awe as the residents and nurses work together in perfect tandem to take care of mother and child. A healthy 7.92 pounds, he is dressed in a canary yellow onesie, complete with miniature mittens and a cap.

However, just when I think the afternoon is winding down, a woman’s scream fills the hall. Leaving the baby in his mom’s arms, I hurry to the ER. I hear the hysterical mother explain that her toddler has swallowed bleach. On the other side of the curtain, one of the residents is attending to a farmer who had cut his leg open with a machete. The resident closes the wound, talking me through every stitch she is placing. Things start to quiet down, and while I am exhausted and tired and hungry, I cannot wait to hear the roosters crowing again, put on my scrubs, and see what tomorrow brings.

Clinically, the tropical diseases and medical cases I have seen here only make me more excited for the years ahead of me in my medical training. However, the real lesson I have learned is to focus on the patient, not the illness. The mother that I met was 17 years old, and explained to me that she wasn’t sure how she will be able to care for her son and finish high school. The farmer with the machete wound was afraid to come to the hospital because he didn’t want to take time off of work and lose his job.

I have had many clinical experiences in the past, and each ultimately led to my decision to study medicine. But living in solidarity with the poor in Ecuador and working with Andean Health & Development has given purpose to this endeavor: to serve patients whose needs are more than the medicine at hand.


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