When Washington University students were invited to attend the 35th Annual National Belize Medical and Dental Association Congress I was quite interested. As I attended an abdominal surgerycaribbean-medical-school-wuhs conference in Tampa a mere two weeks prior to the Belizean conference I was eager to see the similarities and differences in medical ailments and treatments between the two countries.

Those of us who planned on taking the boat over to Belize city met at the docks of Ocean Ferry at 5:30am. I brought my biostatistics book with me to study, but quickly got mesmerized by the beautiful views of Belize. After the 1 hour and 15 minute boat trip and another 15 minutes in a taxi, we arrived to the Biltmore, Best Western Hotel where the congress was being held.

One of the first speakers included Dr. Miguel Quetzal, the only plastic surgeon in Belize. It is easy to forget that the population of Belize is medical-studentapproximately 300,000 people, a number much smaller than most of the metropolitan cities in North America. With the smaller population amount for Belize, one plastic surgeon is all that is needed. He did have the same mentality as most American doctors, just because a patient has the money to do a procedure, does not mean the procedure should be done. The safety should be considered in elective procedures, and all of the comorbidities should be taken into consideration to develop a plan of action. It was fascinating when Dr. Quetzal mentioned the quote: “The solution to pollution is dilution” as just several weeks ago one of the doctors who was discussing treatment for diverticulosis mentioned the same quote.

There were many other interesting speakers that day, including Dr. Sosa speaking about the Zika virus and Guillen Barre, pulmonary embolisms with Dr. Hidalgo and a lot of history pertaining to the council and medicine in Belize. The other speaker that I found most engaging was Dr. Silvio Cuneo, who focused on presenting in vitro fertilization. As women in North America are focusing more on their careers and beginning families at a later age in life, in vitro fertilization has become more popular. Generally speaking, the mean age for women delivering their first child is much younger in Belize. Dr. Briceño, our behavioral wuhs-studentsscience professor, recently discussed how a young fifteen year old girl delivered a healthy baby in the polyclinic and did not even know that she was pregnant. Despite all of this, infertility and problems with conceiving remains a problem in Belize as well, and the need for an in vitro specialist is there. Dr. Cuneo described that in 40% of cases the infertility corresponds to the women’s reproductive system, 40% corresponds to the male reproductive system and 20% are due to idiopathic causes.

Once the speakers had concluded for the day, my original plan was to take the ferry back home and return to Belize City in the morning. However, one of my fellow classmates, Melonie, who is originally from Belize City, humbly offered me a place to stay in her home. I was able to immerse myself more in the Belizean culture during my short over night visit, and have dinner where the locals do. Some minor shopping showed me that prices in San Pedro are quite a bit higher, and I should come and visit Belize City whenever I had the opportunity to do so.

The second day began with dental medicine, something that peaked my interest more than I thought it would. I learned that having a fungal infection spread to your tongue, gums and inner cheeks has devastating impacts on your overall health and a targeted treatment plan needs to be followed up in order to eradicate the infection. What was amazing about this conference was that the speakers went to school, and now practice all over the world, so we got to hear from Doctors from Mexico, like Dr. Torres who spoke about the advances in the treatment of breast cancer, Dr. Dodgion, Dr. Hargarten, and Dr. Sabino who were all from the Medical College of Wisconsin, who spoke of topics pertaining to emergency medicine. I had the opportunity to sit next to Dr. Hargarten and discuss emergency medicine as a speciality, which I am very interested in. I am very lucky to have been able to get advice from an American Professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine, as I would not have had the opportunity to do so if I did not attend the congress.

My favorite speaker from the two days was Dr. Sabino. She not only discussed the anatomy of the head and neck, but discussed factors that were familiar to us, including Le Fort (III) fractures. She presented very interesting cases, showing quite graphic details, including a young women who was mistaken for someone else, and had a tire iron forcefully shoved into her eye and forced through the back of her skull. Understanding the amount of rage needed to force a blunt object through is shocking. By some miracle, the tire iron missed several deadly areas, and the eye had moved out of the way and was salvaged. After facial surgery done by Dr. Sabino, the patient incredibly only had a minor scar near her eye.

the-belize-medical-dental-associationAt the end of the second day, I had never felt more inspired. Each day that I learn something new, I feel one step closure to being a physician. Having had the opportunity to listen to all of the speakers discuss medical issues ranging from gastrointestinal bleeds, to “Brilliance” high resolution scans, which are incredible clear and are conducted from 11-21 seconds. The advances in medicine continue to evolve every day. I am very thankful and grateful for being able to participate and receive the diploma of participation at the end of the conference. We have entered into a career path that requires us to continually learn more throughout the entire process, and I am ready to further my education and grow into a compassionate, knowledgeable and successful physician!

-Margarita Toufeili
November 16-17, 2016