Sophomore women’s lacrosse player Lauren Willcox had anything but a typical winter break as she spent the last week of her vacation time on a medical service trip to Cusco, Peru. From Jan. 4-12, Willcox joined a group of student members of the Lehigh University American Medical Student Association (LUAMSA) on a trip to gain clinical volunteer experience and learn about healthcare in another country.
Led by Dr. Mildred Ramos and project director Todd Freedman, Willcox and her fellow students had the hands-on opportunity of working with Maximo Nivel on their project, Medicine for the Andes. The project’s volunteers helped provide basic medical care for the less fortunate through free clinics in the small villages surrounding Cusco.
Willcox, a Biology major at Lehigh, is also taking premedical course requirements.
“After Lehigh, I hope to continue on to medical school and someday become a doctor,” she said. “This medical service trip allowed me to gain critical clinical volunteer experience and learn about the healthcare situation in Peru. We worked over 35 hours and saw 500 patients in total.”
This was LUAMSA’s first-ever trip to Peru and in addition to provide care, Willcox was able to fully experience the country in every aspect.
“This was actually the first time that LUAMSA has ever made a trip to Peru, so it was an entirely new experience for everyone,” said Willcox. “In addition to the global community outreach that we were able to provide, the trip also exposed me to the rich Peruvian culture. All 12 of us actually stayed with the same host family, which was pretty incredible. We ate Peruvian food at every meal and explored the markets whenever we weren’t volunteering.”
The trip was planned entirely by the students and the LUAMSA spent the fall semester raising money to put towards donations of vitamins and other necessary products to the patients.
“One night, we volunteered at The Goose and made sandwiches behind the counter,” Willcox said. “We got a portion of their proceeds that night for helping out and cleaning up. Those funds went directly to donations.”
Willcox’s most memorable experience from the trip was on her third day of volunteering when her group traveled two hours outside of Cusco to the town of Limatambo.
“We set up a clinic in a large unused room inside the government building behind the town square,” said Willcox. “After brining in all of our equipment and donations, people began arriving. We saw 300 patients that day and at some points, the line to get in was hours long. It was incredible. I was shocked by the amount of people that showed up just for basic physical examinations. In Peru, good quality medical care is difficult to find and the volume of patients seeking care illustrated this.”
The experience proved to be as rewarding for Willcox as it was for the hundreds of Peruvians she was able to assist medically.
“It was wonderful to be a part of such an impacting mission and the experience made me really value everything that we have here in the United States,” said Willcox.