by Aiyana Ponce, OMS-I
This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.
As a high schooler attending a medical magnet school, my first patient interaction came early, but the lesson I learned that day has influenced the type of physician I hope to become. Nervously, I greeted my first patient, Laura, and informed her that I would be assisting the nurse that day. I helped with her bath and brushed her hair with care, just as I brushed my own mother’s hair when she was hospitalized. Laura was blind and her tracheostomy tube prevented her from speaking, but despite that initial disconnected feeling, I was told, “The goal should be to take care of the patient as if she were your own family member.” That goal was to serve with compassion and empathy. These words have remained with me each time I have interacted with a patient. I took lessons such as this one with me after graduating and made it my mission to maximize my impact on others while serving my community.
Over spring break this year, I participated in a medical mission trip to Guatemala with 35 of my peers. Over the course of five days, we traveled by air, sea, and land to visit Santa Maria de Jesus, Magdalena Milpas Atlas, Monterrico, and San Juan, where we saw over 600 patients. Upon arrival at the pop-up clinic locations that were normally schools or church community rooms, there was often an impressively long line that formed before doors opened. Patients waited hours to be seen each day, and that was a humbling sight.
As a first-generation American raised in the U.S.-Mexico border region and a native Spanish speaker, I served as a link between patients, physicians, and medical students. My responsibilities were to initially take patient’s vital signs and blood glucose readings and then discuss their medical history and chief complaints so I could give the information to the attending physicians volunteering with us. Other days, I had the opportunity to work with a student partner and conduct full patient interviews. We would present our differential diagnoses to one of the attending physicians and work alongside the patient to create the best plan of care. On one of these days, I noticed that a patient came in particular distress. Upon my initial analysis, I noticed that he had what I call “working hands.” Large, dry, and calloused, they resembled the hands of my construction laborer father. As soon as I introduced myself by saying, “Buenos días, mi nombre es Aiyana,” his demeanor changed entirely. One moment he was shyly nodding and following the motions, and the next he looked up, seemingly comforted by familiar words. He, like many others, opened up and provided critical information necessary for his recovery. This change in demeanor occurred patient after patient, and I began realizing how incredible it was to contribute to the enhancement of patient care that would otherwise be limited by communication barriers. I am proud of my work as a translator, but I learned that there is far more that goes into quality of care than a shared language. Though some physicians and students were limited by language, I witnessed spectacular uses of eye contact, hand motions, diagrams, and body language – all of which portrayed a genuine desire to connect with and educate patients. Everyone seemed to have an impeccable awareness of their patients’ needs and feelings, despite their differences.
It is a privilege to be entrusted to care for the life of another human being and I do not plan on taking such a responsibility lightly. It is important to acknowledge that one does not need to travel to faraway lands to serve those in need, as many underserved individuals are likely residing minutes away from us right now. In the future, I will continue to participate in mission trips abroad in addition to serving the local community, wherever I go!