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Biomedical Science Senior Spends Summer Treating Burn Victims in Mexico City

Name: Irune Aparicio ‘19
Major: Biology, Biomedical Concentration
Minor: Chemistry
Hometown: Salem, MA
Campus Involvement:  Biological Society (Vice President), Honors Program Advisory Council (President), Gamma Sigma Epsilon - Tau Delta Chapter National Chemistry Honor Society (President)

What internship did you hold and where in the world did it take you? 

I was an observer at the Centro Nacional de Investigación y Atención de Quemados (CENIAQ), a branch within the Instituto Nacional de Rehabilitación (INR), located in Mexico City, Mexico. 

What was your day-to-day like?

Monday through Friday, I was at the hospital shadowing Dr. Francisco Emilio Ferreira, one of the burn surgeons specializing in hand rehabilitation. He performs surgery and care for all types of burn patients, but specifically, patients with third-degree burns on their hands and arms. While I was there, I attended all of his surgeries and actually got to participate in some of them.

Additionally, I accompanied Dr. Ferreira on his rounds to visit his patients and make sure they were ready for surgery, or to check on the evolution of the patients he had previously performed surgery on.

Why were you so passionate about pursuing this specific internship? 

I wanted to be in a hospital where there was a lot of action, and where I could experience and see the most that I could. Hospitals in Mexico allow their interns to have hands-on experiences and participate in surgeries, while hospitals in the U.S. only let them watch. It was essential for me to be in an institute that would let me participate because watching doctors perform a surgery versus being part of the team performing surgery are very different experiences. 

Going into your internship, what did you hope to get out of it? 

Going into this observer opportunity, my goal was to see if I could work in a hospital full time and if I could take the pressure and the responsibility of taking care of a patient in a severe state. I also wanted to see how I would react to a surgery and if I could see myself performing surgeries as a career. 

I’m glad to say that after this experience, I love medicine even more than I did before going into this observership. 

What professional skills did gain?

I learned how to differentiate between the three different degrees of burns on a patient, and which burns could heal by themselves and which needed surgical assistance. I also learned how to take skin grafts from donor skin, and apply them to the damaged burn tissue with a sterile skin stapler.

I feel like this experience has helped me work on my accountability and listening skills.

How did you grow personally?

I felt an improvement in my character and gained more confidence in my skills and who I am as a person, and who I aspire to be as a doctor. 

I developed new communication skills by having to interact with everyone in Spanish. This was a challenge for me because I had to push myself out of my comfort zone.  

Surprisingly, this helped me reconnect with my Mexican roots and heritage, I fell back in love with the culture and the people. I also created some great friendships with a hand full of the nurses and surgeons at the hospital, I would have never met them if I had stayed in the Boston area. 

Why do you think completing an internship is important?

As a student, if you get an opportunity to acquire more experience and knowledge beyond your school and classroom, you should take it– that is why we are students, we are pursuing higher education to learn, and internships let us make mistakes and learn from them, more than a classroom can.   

What piece of advice would you give to a fellow Viking trying to decide whether or not they should do an internship? 

Find somewhere they would like to intern, and if you’re nervous or unsure you will be accepted, apply anyway.

When I connected with the sub-director of CENIAQ, asking to be an observer, I thought my chances my application would be considered were pretty low–I only had volunteer experience at the North Shore Medical Center and I was applying to Mexico’s main Burn Center. As it turned out, he was really interested in having someone from the U.S. observe, and ultimately I experienced more than I could ever have imagined.

What was the best part of venturing to Mexico for this opportunity?

I loved being in the hospital, but the best experience for me was visiting the Castillo de Chapultepec. It’s a castle in Mexico City that was owned and built by Maximilian I of Mexico, the younger brother of the Austrian Emperor at the time. Taking in the grandeur of the castle, and learning more about Mexico’s history and its people’s revolution to gain independence from the Europeans, gave me a sense of patriotism that I had never felt before for Mexico, the country where both of my parents were born. Personally speaking, it was a very special day for me.     

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