A Lesson in Hospitality

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When I think of my arrival in Botucatu, a small city in the Brazilian countryside, the first word that comes to mind is “hospitality.”

From the first day, I was eagerly greeted and introduced to the town, which boasts two large university campuses, several historic buildings, and numerous nearby waterfalls. When I came to the hospital, I was quickly introduced to the students and residents, who welcomed me and made sure that one of the younger students could take me sightseeing on the weekend to learn more about their region. On a lighter afternoon, residents and students were quick to include me if they were taking a quick coffee break or going out for acai after work.

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This sense of welcome and generosity is not limited to foreigners. People almost always greet each other when they walk into a room, often with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Additionally, it is not uncommon for people to ask for a ride from a stranger here. Students wait in swarms on the street corner, signaling that they need a ride from another passing student who has a car, signaling which part of town they are trying to go. Even my Uber driver was willing to venture with me down multiple dark country roads to try to find a house that had no address. One student once commented to me that she likes living here because “people really care about you and your well-being here,” even if you are a stranger.

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When I think about how this translates to care in the hospital, I was amazed to learn how far people will travel for medical treatment. The Brazilian government provides free healthcare to all Brazilians. While there are other public hospitals in the region, Botucatu has one of the best centers for specialty care. In the hospital, we would often see patients who drove more than 2 hours to reach the hospital, some much longer. Regardless of who they were, where they came from, or their lifestyle, they all received the same care. I noted a high level of trust between patients and healthcare providers, something that I have not always seen in other places. Discharge from the hospital was often accompanied by a hug.

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Apart from the many lessons I’ve learned on my trip about infection, snake bites, universal healthcare, and a completely different schedule of medical education, I will also remember this resounding lesson about hospitality and community.

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