At an altitude of 11,000 feet, 14 Sargent College students spent two weeks of summer 2015 learning that not all ailments call for Advil and MRIs. At least not in Peru. The undergrad and grad students, studying various disciplines, learned about the country’s reliance on traditional, homeopathic medicines, and about its transition to modern health care through visits to both public and private hospitals.
“At Sargent, we’re committed to a holistic approach to teaching our students,” says Anna Monahan, a SAR lecturer in health sciences, who led the trip with Shelley Brown (SPH’07), a SAR clinical assistant professor. “It’s so important to understand traditional medicine, because you will not have any success dealing with anyone from any kind of traditional background or with a traditional belief system if you disregard that. You’re not going to get a desirable outcome.”
If a doctor in Peru, where women give birth in a standing position, were to instruct a Peruvian woman to lie down while giving birth (as women in most American hospitals do), says Monahan, the woman would lose trust in the clinic and wouldn’t want to give birth there.
“We visited a birthing center, and it was really eye-opening for the students to see, listen, and learn about the respect the staff have for women in these clinics, and the way they deliver,” Brown says. “I think students asked really good, deep questions and will bring that back into their work here.”
The group of next-generation health care workers also connected with locals in remote farming villages outside the Inca capital of Cusco, where they learned about sustainable agriculture and cooking in the mountain area. The students in turn conducted health and hygiene workshops for local residents. “We got to see some of the plants that go into making traditional oils,” says Hannah Kuegler (SAR’17). “They can help with anything from altitude to allergies.”
“In this day and age, we’re always trying to find better treatments, and I think it’s important to return to the past and learn from people who have done much of the same research that we are doing,” says Victoria Cahill (SAR’18). “We always get prescriptions for things. We don’t like to stop and see how our bodies connect with the world, but in Peru, it’s natural remedies. It’s been an amazing opportunity.”