MPH Panama Practicum 2013: First Impression

Gurjinder Dosanjh

July 14, 2013

We landed around noon here in Panama and the weather was my favorite! Even though it was humid, it was gloomy! It was very grey and I was glad the sun wasn’t piercing through the sky making it even hotter. Luckily it rains at some point of the day here everyday. We were able to get a glimpse of Panama City while we were on our way to the hotel. It exceeded my expectations completely. There are so many skyscrapers, and the city itself is quite big in size and ranges from one end to another stretching miles. Everything looks so new and modern; I wondered how so many Panamanians could afford this. There aren’t just a few new high rise-rise apartments, there are countless. Also, while we were driving, I noticed the cars and roads, mostly new and barely any traffic or smog. This area of panama was beautiful and I was so happy to see it. But, as we were leaving the city, the slums became apparent. So it seems these tall buildings do a good job at hiding the smaller details at the bottom of the city. There were whole sections of old and broken homes with children running around on the streets outside. I was not surprised to see this because this was what I had expected coming into a developing Central American country, but it was still sad to see the difference between the lifestyles. Then, we arrived at the famous El Ray grocery supermarket that we had been told about for weeks to pick up everything we needed. They truly had everything we could possibly need and it was the same brands and similar prices as in the US. While I was shopping at El Ray I noticed that the other customers there were not the poor, they were the relatively well off Panamanians that had the luxury to shop there because it doesn’t seem likely that a average person from here could afford to. This shows the differences and how there must be social inequality in Panama as well. Our hotel is very comfortable and again, a lot nicer than most of us had anticipated. Sometimes I forget I’m in Panama while I am inside because it looks just like a hotel from the US. The area surrounding our hotel is very green, natural, calm, and seems safe because there are guards at the entrances. It’s away from the city so it has a different style to it, the buildings in this city of Clayton are white and all have red-orange roofs. There is also a local bar/restaurant next door to the hotel that we all went to on the first night and I thought the food was all right but they had bad customer service because they took too long. There is also a cafe in our hotel downstairs and I am glad they have vegetarian options.

 On the second day we went straight to the city to visit the San Tomas hospital, which is the oldest and first public hospital in the city. We were told that a lot of important research is conducted here as well. It was large building with many sections and it was interesting to see doctors and nurses working with patients in Panama. We went upstairs to a lecture room and listened to Dr. Cavo discussing the history of Panama and the history of the public health system in the country. Then we heard about the indigenous populations and the Panama health statistics. It was interesting to know that Panama has a rising HIV rate because there are a lot of sex workers and most of them are females and the problem seems to be condom use. After the long lecture in the cold room, we ate lunch at the hospital but I couldn’t eat because there wasn’t a vegetarian option. I’ve come to realize that there are not many vegetarian options in this country. Afterwards, we took the bus and went on the city tour. First, we went to the 2nd city or Casco Viejo, which was the older and more cultural part of the area. They had beautiful homes from different time periods. It was very historical with French, American, and Spanish architecture. It started raining in the middle of our tour so we had to wear our ponchos. Even though it was pouring, I thought everything there was so lovely, the narrow streets, small little cafes and shops. After walking around for a couple hours we went to the Panama Canal and did the entire tour. This is a modern engineering marvel that changed the world. We watched a documentary on it as well in 3D that went over the history, benefits, and how it works. It was great to finally see this marvelous structure.

About the MPH Panama Practicum

A group of University of Southern California graduate students are researching public health in Panama City, Panama, for a two-week international practicum, organized by the USC Master of Public Health (MPH) program. This post was excerpted from panama.usc.eduView all posts in this series »