Alumni Spotlight: Ela Diffenbaugh ’19

Ela Diffenbaugh ’19 traveled to Guatemala this summer on a medical service trip where she aided the team as an interpreter. She is currently a freshman at Stanford University.

In August, I traveled to Nuevo Progreso, Guatemala, with a team of audiologists and ENT surgeons to work as an interpreter. The team, coming from a foundation called Hospital de la Familia, provided hearing tests, hearing aides and ENT surgery to the people of Nuevo Progreso and the surrounding communities. 

I met Dr. Gamboa (an awesome, inspiring OB/GYN surgeon and Mr. Leake's wife) when she came to Pinewood to speak to the Health Science club about her documentary covering her work with migrant mothers. It was incredibly inspiring to hear her talk about her experiences working with women in Watsonville and abroad in different Latin American countries. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to talk to her about both her work as a surgeon and with Latina women around the world. 

At the beginning of July, I received a text from Dr. Gamboa asking if I wanted to work as an interpreter on an upcoming trip. Even though I did not know exactly what I was getting into, I jumped at the opportunity and immediately said yes!

During my sophomore year at Pinewood, I did a semester abroad and lived with a host family, which is where I learned the majority of my Spanish, but I definitely learned a lot in my classes at Pinewood as well. My Spanish teacher freshman year really inspired me to continue to pursue learning Spanish.

My job as an interpreter on this trip to Guatemala was to facilitate connections between the doctors and the patients. In other words, I was translating English to Spanish and Spanish to English. I would accompany doctors' morning and evening rounds, explain aftercare instructions to patients, help the anesthesiologist conduct pre-op interviews, talk to the patients while they were going under anesthesia, update the families on the surgery that their family member was having, and be with the patients in the recovery room.

The trip was, as cheesy as it sounds, life-changing. Although I was planning on going pre-med before traveling to Guatemala, I was a bit wishy-washy on if I actually wanted to pursue a career in the health field. However, I can now say, with absolute certainty, that I definitely want to work in the field of medicine. I absolutely loved interacting with the patients, learning their stories, helping them to feel comfortable in a vulnerable space, and spending time in the OR. 

Overall, traveling to Nuevo Progreso was an absolutely incredible experience. I got to scrub into surgery for the first time (pretty much the coolest thing I've ever done in my life!), spend time and get to know the stories of some Guatemalan people, and begin to understand what working in medicine actually means and looks like. I really hope that I get to go back!

I really appreciate Mr. Leake connecting Dr. Gamboa and me, and I am so grateful for the connections that Pinewood has facilitated.

Make an Impact

Pinewood's Interact Club will be running a Jar Wars fundraiser at Upper Campus from September 23rd to September 27th. The money raised will go to Hospital de la Familia (HDLF), an organization committed to providing quality medical care to the citizens of San Marcos, Guatemala, and the surrounding communities. Specifically, the money raised will go towards anesthesia medications and surgery equipment—all crucial in conducting a safe and successful surgery. HDLF reaches its patients through reasonably priced procedures, clinics, and educational programming.

Donate to Hospital de la Familia directly here.

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