Emma Couch ’23 Gets Hands-On Medical Experience on Medical Mission Trip to Peru

Emma Couch ’23 helped provide care for over 500 patients on a medical mission trip to southern Peru with Global Medical Training, an international humanitarian organization that provides free medical and dental services to underserved communities in Central America.
Typically, it is pre-medical students who go on medical mission trips with Global Medical Training (GMT), so as a high school student, Emma Couch ’23 was unsure how sending a cold email to the founder of the organization would go. Thankfully, it worked out.

Emma is a rising senior who has attended Hutchison since 9th grade. When she was 12 years old, she was diagnosed with a heart condition, and her experiences with doctors motivated her to pursue a career in medicine and public health. She learned about GMT through a friend’s social media post and became inspired by its mission to provide free medical care to underserved communities in Central America as well as education for students on the pre-medical track in college.

In her email to the organization’s founder, she explained her career interests. Emma had clinical experience through shadowing and interning with medical professionals, and she had a prepared resume that had been reviewed by the Hutchison college counseling team. After looking through her qualifications and working out the logistics, she received permission to be one of a few high school students to participate in a mission trip with the group. Emma credits Hutchison for preparing her to seek out this opportunity.

“I gained the confidence to send a cold email… and learned how to present myself,” Emma said. “Hutchison taught me how to craft emails, sound professional in phone calls, and be perceived as more than a high school student.”

The other students on the trip were UCLA pre-medical students. Emma made sure she was prepared before traveling to Peru by practicing with mock patient calls and studying information that UCLA students reviewed during weekly meetings.

“I wanted to be on the same playing field as everyone else, which took extra preparation and studying,” she said.

For a week in June, Emma got hands-on medical experience through volunteering at clinics in rural areas of southern Peru. During each clinic, she would work with a Spanish-speaking translator to see patients, ask them questions, and reach a presumptive diagnosis. Then, she would call over a doctor, review the assessment with them, and help write a prescription or treatment plan. 

“This was one of the most rewarding, challenging, and educational experiences I’ve ever had,” Emma said. “It was not only diagnosing and treating what they were there for but also having open ears and listening as long as it took. It was eye-opening because I thought it was going to be more like ‘This is what you have. Here’s your prescription.’ ”

Two important things she learned were how to present herself as trustworthy and sympathetic and how to advocate for patients. She said it was emotional for her to see patients with medical conditions that her group could not treat. They would write referrals to specialists such as ophthalmologists or urologists but knew patients would not be able to go see them.

“We were doing so much, but there was always something we could not help with, which was hard to let go of,” she said.

On the last night of the trip, a doctor reminded Emma and the other aspiring medical professionals that they don’t have to go far to create change. Emma already aims to make a difference at Hutchison as vice president of Honor Council and through Joy Club, a student organization she founded. The Joy Club has volunteered with the Special Olympics and currently partners with the Baddour Center, a residential community for adults with intellectual disabilities. After returning from Peru, Emma is now looking for a local medical organization to volunteer with.
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