Women’s Track and Field
What were you involved with this summer? How long were you there?
This summer I went on a fellowship program for two and a half weeks in Pavia, Italy (about an hour southwest of Milan). We had the amazing opportunity to shadow doctors at Fondazione Policlinico San Matteo, a public teaching hospital associated with the college in Pavia, with a variety of specialties and try to the best of our ability to talk with the doctors, nurses, and even patients. While I was there I shadowed three different surgeons, one in ENT, one in neurology, and one in cardiology. It was very impressive to see such complex surgeries first hand. One surgery that specifically stood out was a pulmonary embolectomy. The procedure they were using was a new technique that only a couple hospitals in the world are doing. The doctor allowed us to stand on a stool by the patients head so we could see what he was doing and even stopped to explain while it was going on. They even got to know us personally during the five minutes off section involved in open heart surgery that allows the blood to filter through the body.
How did you find out about this opportunity, why did you decide to do it?
I found out about the program from an advertisement that happened to pop up on my computer, so it was completely by chance. I had caught the travel bug a year prior after an amazing research trip to rural Tanzania, and knew I wanted to be out and traveling this past summer. My previous trip to Africa also solidified the fact that I wanted to do pre-med in college, with the eventual goal of working for Doctors Without Borders, or a similar organization after med school. This was a great program for that because I got to shadow in a hospital while also being able to travel and explore new things, especially a hospital system where there is national healthcare and the pros and cons to that. During our weekend off, some of us even took the train to Switzerland to see the Matterhorn.
Had you ever been to Italy before? Were you able to do any sightseeing?
I had never been to Italy before, which made it a little nerve-racking traveling alone to a foreign country, especially four hours after my last final. We did, however, get to do a lot of sightseeing, which made it beyond worth it. While it feels a little weird that I have been to Italy but not to the super famous areas such as Venice, Rome, or Florence, I truly enjoyed getting to travel around Milan, traveling up to Switzerland, and even going on a day trip to the coast.
What was the experience like? Was it challenging being in a country where English is not the first language?
Going into the trip speaking no Italian whatsoever was definitely a challenge, and because we were not in a touristy town and very few people spoke English. Through a bunch of hand gestures we (my other group-mates and I) managed to get around, and even learned some frequently used terms. Most of the doctors in the hospital spoke fluent English, and if not, at least had basic conversation skills in English and could therefore explain everything we need to know. The anesthesiologists, however, did not, which made trying to communicate with them very difficult. I found that facial expressions were very useful both in conveying your own feelings but also in deciphering everyone else's emotions. There was one nurse who spoke no English, who would make funny faces at me and I would respond by doing the same. We ended up cracking up laughing and it was one of my favorite moments from the trip. It was remarkable that two people who could not communicate could enjoy each other’s presence so much and truly get along very well. She also gave me a piece of candy which didn't hurt.
What types of procedures did you get to observe? Did you get to do anything hands on?
There was definitely nothing hands on, because we are not at all medically trained. I did, however, get to watch open heart surgery, a brain biopsy, and a complex larynectomy where they removed the individual’s larynx and added a voice prosthesis to his esophagus so he can learn to talk again.
What sparked your interest in 'Doctors Without Borders' type organizations?
Getting to travel to rural Tanzania and meeting the people that live there. There was one old man who let us into his home to tell us about the coconuts he grew that really made me want to work for Doctors Without Borders. He was older but had a terrible cough, that made it difficult for him to speak. In the U.S. he could have probably been cured with the correct drugs but had no access to such drugs in Tanzania.
Would you do something like this again? Have you got your sights set on any other programs in the future?
Definitely!!!! I am hoping to go on the Medlife Trip to Ecuador in January.