Student Experience Story: Krista Hartmann, UVA '19

Sarah Bessey
Krista Hartmann

Krista Hartmann, UVA '19 shares her experience conducting global public health research in Guatemala.


What is the program/position?

I spent nine weeks abroad in Guatemala last summer, learning Spanish and working on a Public Health research project. The program I went with was called the UVA Guatemala Initiative, and I received a grant from the Center for Global Health for my research partner and I to study telemedicine as a method for teaching emergency ultrasound in a Guatemalan hospital.

How did you learn about the program/position?

I saw the opportunity on a listserv for one of the clubs I’m in, and I kept emailing the doctor in charge of it to see how I could get involved. It took a while to get a response, but in the end my persistence was worth it!

What made you decide to engage in this opportunity?

I really wanted to study abroad and do research. With my premed schedule, I didn’t have time to spend a whole semester abroad so a summer was a logical alternative. I was also interested in exploring a Latin American country because our cultures interact so much today, and I felt it would be really valuable to understand where some of the immigrants to the US were coming from. I think cultural awareness is really important in healthcare, and this opportunity definitely gave me a new perspective. I was also really interested in the research component of the opportunity, and it was great for me to see how public health research is conducted. I’d only done traditional lab-oriented research before, so the public health component was definitely out of my comfort zone. This was also such a unique opportunity because I was in charge of my own project. The opportunity to learn Spanish was also super appealing because knowing Spanish is so valuable in the healthcare field.

What did your experience in this position consist of? Can you describe a typical day/week?

For the first two weeks of my trip, I took Spanish lessons at Celas Maya—a Spanish school in Xela. I lived with a host family for the entirety of my trip, which was a great way to practice my Spanish and get a feel for the culture. After that, my partner and I traveled to Totonicapán via chicken bus every day to work on our project. We were working in a hospital to develop an ultrasound education curriculum to teach students how to use an ultrasound machine in emergency settings. This was really important because, aside from X-rays, ultrasound was the only source of imaging they had access to in the emergency department there. In the first phase of our project, we surveyed all of the medical students and doctors working in the emergency department of the Totonicapán hospital on their ultrasound knowledge. We then used these results to create a curriculum with a lecture, self-study, and hands-on component. Once we developed our curriculum, we put it into play. This meant my partner and I had to lecture medical students, in Spanish, about ultrasound.  Then acted as models and instructors to help them practice the ultrasound exams. We were in the hospital Monday-Friday, and usually we traveled to other cities in Guatemala on the weekends or hiked some of the local volcanoes. It was a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun!

What distinguished this opportunity from other options you might have pursued?

This opportunity gave me the chance to be in charge of my own research and work on my own project. While I had a lot of support along the way, the project was ultimately my own responsibility. I really appreciated this opportunity to pursue my own research. I had also never spent much time in a Latin American country, and I was very interested in learning more about Latin culture.

How did this experience help to prepare you for your next step?

My time in Guatemala was absolutely incredible. I learned so much about how healthcare systems differ from ours in developing countries, and I became really good at speaking Spanish. I also became very proficient at performing a few ultrasound exams. This experience was such a valuable opportunity for me to learn about healthcare in another culture and to broaden my own skills. Because of my work in Guatemala, I was also asked to be a TA for a UVA Engineering and public health course abroad in Guatemala. I am so excited for this opportunity to return to Guatemala, and I’m really looking forward to participating in the course. The course focuses on different aspects of health infrastructure, and we get to travel to places like hospitals, water filtration plants, and markets to understand how culture really influences the health system there. It’s definitely a great opportunity, and I’d encourage anyone to check out the course if you’re interested in healthcare and exploring a Latin American country!

If you're interested UVA in Guatemala study abroad program, find more information here!