The women in the small rural village in Peru kept lining up, one after another, to see Dr. Robyn Drinkwater and get basic exams and screenings they had not had access to before. To get to the remote village, the intern in the OB/GYN residency program at Georgia Regents University drove three hours “up mud roads up the side of a mountain,” she said. “It’s a very small town. All of the women in the town would line up.”
And at the end of the day, Drinkwater had done 102 Pap smears, looking for evidence of cervical cancer or precancerous changes, as well as clinical breast exams to look for breast cancer. She only stopped because they ran out of supplies and equipment.
Drinkwater was one of four OB/GYN residents who went to Peru as part of what might be a unique requirement for them to complete residency training.
“I don’t know of any other residency program right now that fully funds and requires their residents do global health,” said Dr. Chadburn Ray, OB/GYN residency program director and director of the Global Health Program at Georgia Regents University. “It is an elective in nearly all other programs.”
The residents rotate through the CerviCusco clinic in Cusco, Peru, that was founded by GRU faculty member Dr. Daron Ferris. The city is 11,000 feet up in the Andean mountains near the fabled Machu Picchu archeological site and at one time was the capital of the Inca Empire, according to the GRU program.
It is also the site of tremendous need, said Dr. Nicole Wellbaum, one of the residents who made the trip.
“Dr. Ferris’ clinic is for these people,” she said. “Before he had his clinic, women didn’t get Pap smears.”
Drinkwater saw the impact of that in some women who had already developed cervical cancer. But for those with what looked like abnormal results, she could offer some help.
“We would follow up with them and let them know what the results of their Paps were,” Drinkwater said. “And they would travel to the clinic in Cusco and get further testing and treatment for their disease.”
The technology and supplies are limited there, which is part of the learning experience, Ray said.
“It definitely enhances your clinical skills and tests your ability to manage a problem, just because the resources aren’t there,” he said.
Being overseas in places like Peru also brings you back to the basics, Wellbaum said.
“I think as a doctor you need to go every few years just to remind yourself of why you got into medicine in the first place, because it is easy to take things for granted here,” she said.