A Note on Medical Clearance

I want to take a moment to talk about being denied medical clearance for a volunteer position in Peace Corps on the need for site specific placement due to a medical condition. It’s a difficult process to deal with in the application and pre-departure stages of service and one that I could not find much information on while undergoing this process myself. However it’s something that about 5%-10% of invitees experience.

This post explores my personal experience with this process and also seeks to encourage any other Peace Corps invitees that might be going through this frustrating process to keep their hopes up.

After accepting an invitation to serve in Tanzania with Peace Corps and submitting all of my documents for medical clearance, I got the disappointing news that I was not cleared for service in Tanzania because the PC Medical office had decided that I would need site specific placement (within 2 hours of a 24/7 medical care facility) due to a history of anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, no posts in Tanzania for my position were within this range of a medical care facility.

The two episodes of anaphylaxis I experienced were over over 4 years ago and due to a strange new allergy that I developed to a combination of eating carrots and exercising within 2 hours of consuming carrots. Yep, it’s a super strange allergy. But since finding out that strange combination (after a month of confusion with occasional hives after exercising and the two aforementioned anaphylaxis) I have easily managed to not have another allergic reaction by exercising in the afternoons and only eating carrots in the evenings (never in the daytime before exercising).

Because my allergy had been effectively managed for over 4 years with not so much as a hive appearing, I felt that I had a case to appeal the medical decision. Both my primary care physician and allergist also felt I was at no more risk than an average person and wrote letters to support my case in my appeal process.

Being denied medical clearance again after my appeal was disappointing and a very difficult time for me. It was also a good test of my flexibility and adaptability. I had set my heart on Tanzania for the last few months after receiving an invitation, spending hours every night researching the culture and preparing myself for service. However, I understand and appreciate that the health and safety of volunteers is the Peace Corps first priority.

Without a shadow of a doubt I knew deep in my soul that Peace Corps Service was exactly what I want to be doing with my life at this time, so after receiving the disappointing news, I quickly emailed my placement officer to request consideration for a second invitation. She let me know that she had identified a few possibilities and would get back to me in a few weeks.

I’ve never been one to squash my emotions. I let them roll through me and appreciate the diverse stings and aches, lightness and euphoria each one may bring. Each emotion is a beautiful part of being human. So I sat with my sadness for a couple days and let it slowly turn to hope and excitement for a second invitation. I did not have any country or region preferences for a second invitation and the idea that I could potentially be placed in almost any country in the world was very exciting.

8am on Tues Dec. 6th I was laying in the warmth of my bed listening to the radio music of the alarm that had just stirred me awake in the cold blue light of winter morning when my phone began to ring. I grabbed my phone and saw a Washington DC number. Half awake, I incredulously wondered “who do I know in DC?!”. Then it dawned on me that it was likely Peace Corps and I quickly answered my phone. To my delight it was the placement officer I had been in contact with and she let me know that I would be receiving an invitation to serve in Jamaica.

The feeling that hit me was immediate elation. I felt like I had hit the Peace Corps lottery. Jamaica is such a beautiful country with a culture and people who are unmatched in their vivaciousness and vibrancy. Intuitively it just felt like the puzzle piece clicked into place with me, that this was where I was needed and where I needed to go. Since that day I’ve spent hours every day reading about Jamaica to prepare myself for service and I think I get a little more excited every day.

So in the words of Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you just might find, you get what you need!”

See yuh pon di island!


PS: If any potential Peace Corps volunteers are going through this process and have any questions for me, please feel free to comment or contact me!

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