A Sense of Purpose

“The best way to learn is to immerse yourself—to just be a part of it,” says Abigail Hano ’20, who did just that last summer, when she traveled to Peru to work with doctors and nurses in the “postas” of Cusco. 

“The postas are essentially small clinics,” Abigail explains. “I was assigned to a private facility in the city, where I initially spent the mornings shadowing doctors on their rounds.”

In the afternoons, Abigail and other high school volunteers from across the globe completed formal medical workshops, which prepared them to understand the conditions and diseases most common in Peru, to measure and assess medical vital signs, and to deliver therapeutic medical injections.

“I was assigned to the pre- and post-op floors of the hospital,” says Abigail, “where monitoring vitals is especially important. When you walk into a hospital room in the United States, you usually see all kinds of electronic monitoring equipment. In Cusco, you see a whiteboard with the patient’s name, age, then notes on vitals that we track manually. The doctors were dependent on us to take the vitals every few hours to accurately monitor the patients; I feel like I had a really big, pretty important role there—a sense of purpose that was really rewarding. ”

Abigail also spent time working on a floor dedicated to tourists seeking medical care.

“Many of the doctors in the hospitals spoke only Spanish to the volunteers and to the patients. Because I speak some Spanish, I was often able to act as a translator for the patients on the tourist floor,” Abigail says. “Those patients were usually nervous about needing medical care and about not speaking the language, so when we walked in and were able to communicate in both English and Spanish they were relieved and grateful. That experience made me think that I’d like to combine my Spanish language study with a career in medicine. Expanding my ability to communicate with a broader range of patients will make me a better doctor, and lessen the stress for my patients.” 

The ability to communicate in multiple languages was also especially helpful, Abigail says, during the outreach sessions she and the other students engaged in throughout the city. The group traveled to local elementary schools where they essentially conducted school physicals.

Many of these children don’t have the opportunity to visit a doctor or a clinic unless they are sick,” says Abigail. “But they need ongoing monitoring and health assessments. Anemia, for example, is very common, so we did blood tests during the physicals.”

Abigail also conducted vision testing on the students and gathered data that can be tracked to assess overall health and nutrition, including height and weight. All of the work she did, she did as part of a team. It is an approach she will bring into her life at Taft.

“Too often we think we need to know everything and solve every problem on our own,” Abigail says. “In Peru, it was so important for everyone, especially the volunteers, to use each other—to rely on each other. From overcoming language barriers and filling in medical knowledge gaps, to sharing the fun and challenges living in a new city, the importance of cooperative work and shared knowledge to solve problems is something this experience has made me value and appreciate even more.”

Abigail’s travel was funded in part by a Meg Page ’74 fellowship. To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, Meg Page ’74 Fellowships are awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.