Liza Haynie '11 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Gets Hands-On Medical Experience in Mexico

Liza Haynie applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to participate in the MedSpanish Pre-Professional Summer Internship program in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In addition to attending classes in medical Spanish, Hayne got hands-on medical experience with the Red Cross and in a local hospital. A business administration major, she has previously worked in medical clinics in Nicaragua and the Brooklyn Chest Tuberculosis Hospital in South Africa. She also spent a semester abroad at the University of Cape town in South Africa in the fall of 2009.


Although I alternate working at the Red Cross and the local hospital, my days in San Miguel de Allende always start with walking. Whether to the bus stop or the hospital, I head down the road outside my house for about twenty minutes. Today, I'm headed to the hospital, so I pull on my scrubs, grab my nametag and stethoscope and start walking.

After a check-in with my program's coordinator, I scrub in to observe the many operations occurring each day. In the four operating rooms at the local hospital, the specialists rotate days as the scheduled operations require, so I never really know what to expect walking into the OR. While the surgeons change each day, one thing that is always there to greet me is American pop music. Apparently, DJ is a part of the anesthesiologist's job description.

First up today, I work with an ophthalmologist as he removes two different types of cataracts. This doctor--like most in the hospital in San Miguel--is very patient with me and happy to teach, so I am able to ask questions throughout the surgery and look at the patient's eye under a microscope after each step. Because I explained my interest in Global Health, this surgeon even pulls out his iPhone to show me a video of the less invasive technique used in America with the expensive machinery this hospital cannot afford.

Next up, I go to the OR next door and catch the end of a surgery where the doctor is installing a metal rod in a woman's broken ankle. The patient is awake during the entire process and asking me casual questions about my life while I struggle to keep a reassuring smile for her as I watch the power drill being used on her ankle. After that, I head to my last and most anticipated surgery for the day: a Caesarean section. I am really excited about this surgery in particular because it is the first birth I am able to scrub in on. Before we start, the surgeon explains to me that this baby cannot be delivered naturally because his head is turned the wrong way and he has the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, preventing the doctor from being able to turn him. As soon as the baby is out, the doctor quickly uncoils the umbilical cord and we all welcome the baby to the world with an excited, "¡Hola, chico!" After the mother is stitched up and introduced to her new son, my time at the hospital is over, so I start my walk to the bus stop.

Because I stayed at the hospital so long, I have to eat a quick lunch of a granola bar on the bus on the way to the MedSpanish office. Once there, I meet up with my Spanish tutor, Blanca, and we start our daily lesson. The lessons last around two or three hours and always include our favorite snack of Japanese peanuts. For the first hour and a half we focus on conversational Spanish and new verb tenses, but in the second half we turn to more medical Spanish. In this part of the lesson, I learn phrases that are not typically taught at school, such as, "We're going to have to remove your gallbladder," and all of the Spanish terms for body parts and common illnesses.

It is usually around five when class ends, so I head to town to grab some groceries for dinner. The cobble stone streets of this historic town are filled with art galleries and great restaurants, so it is easy to wander around town for an hour or so before I start the long walk to my house. Usually this walk happens to pass by my favorite shop, where I pick up a brownie to go with my dinner.

As a college student, I am really fortunate that the Johnson Opportunity Grant has enabled me to have these experiences in Mexico. Whether I am riding on an ambulance with the Mexican Red Cross, scrubbing in on surgeries, or just practicing my Spanish, each day I am learning more and more and coming closer to my goal of working in International Public Health after graduation.