With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, countless study abroad programs were cancelled or postponed for the safety of its students. Recently, however, some programs got to resume as early as this past summer.
Madelyn Spano, a third-year biochemistry student from San Angelo, was one of 24 students picked from the United States to attend the Doctors in Italy fellowship program.
“My role is to find a strategy and to build long-lasting relationships with universities that (Doctors in Italy) partner with, and also to build a program that students find value in,” said Nadia Neytcheva, the CEO and co-founder of Doctors in Italy. “Our mission is to internationalize medicine using technology and education.”
Since the complete shutdown of many study abroad programs, the Doctors in Italy fellowship program was the first fellowship to resume international clinical internships in Italian hospitals, said Francesco-Maria Serino, the COO and co-founder of Doctors in Italy.
Spano said the program allowed students to shadow doctors in a hospital in Italy, and this summer’s program was based in Rome. While attending the program, she was also able to attend a course at John Cabot University, since the program was in partnership with the university, and was able to live in the residence halls.
“We believe that the future is definitely international, even more so after the pandemic,” Neytcheva said. “We feel like it’s very important for the future doctors to be culturally competent and aware of the need to be open to different ways of understanding the world, and to dealing with even common issues. So that’s why we built this program.”
Kaitlin Kelly, a fourth-year neuroscience student from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, studies at Yale University and also attended the program this past summer. Kelly attended the fellowship for two weeks and said it is a program that allows students to get experience shadowing doctors while being immersed in a different culture.
Students learn medical terminology and what it is like working and being in a hospital, while also learning about Italy and its culture, Kelly said.
“The cultural differences between medicine in Italy and the U.S. were very interesting to observe firsthand, versus reading them out of a textbook or hearing about them,” Kelly said.
Students were given the opportunity to shadow a different specialty and doctor nearly every week. This was a great opportunity for students to gain experience in all different types of specialties and see the day-to-day experiences of its doctors, Kelly said.
Those within the program could shadow the pediatrics center, the anesthesia center, oncology, cardiology, internal medicine and plastic surgery, said Mariana Luna-Martinez, a second-year biology student from Newark, New Jersey who attends at Montclair State University.
“There’s so many cool (specialties) to do and shadowing literally helps you narrow it, and helps you learn or try to gain more experience and see what you want to do for the rest of your life,” Luna-Martinez said.
Spano said her first week consisted of shadowing anesthesia specialists. The following week was pediatrics, and so on with all the other specialties at random.
The program also practiced all the COVID-19 safety precautions as well as normal hospital safety measures, Kelly said. She said Doctors in Italy covered the students’ first COVID-19 test and required them to take one each week they were in the program.
“It’s a really neat program because it gives you the opportunity to learn more about what you want to do in medicine,” Spano said. “Also, you’re meeting so many people. Especially, because we were staying in the dorms. So, we would meet people from all over. There were people from Egypt, people from the U.S., or people from Canada.”
Luna-Martinez said she found herself inspired by the doctors, particularly Dr. Tena in the fellowship, making her more motivated and passionate about entering the field.
Dr. Tena and her team, Luna-Martinez said, would always make their patients feel more comfortable by telling them jokes whenever they were nervous. Luna-Martinez said Dr. Tena and her team motivated her because they were so amazing to not only her but to the patients.
“That trip literally motivated me into becoming a doctor and motivated me into taking risks,” Luna-Martinez said. “When I shadowed Doctor Tena, she was the biggest inspiration to me because it’s really great to see women succeed and women in STEM, in general."
Students’ days started relatively early, Kelly said, and the hospital shadowing would take place from Monday to Thursday. Fridays would consist of group excursions, such as group dinners, leaving the weekend completely up to the students, she said.
Though the program was in Rome, Kelly said she and her friends were able to explore outside of Rome as well.
“So, my friend group and I, we went to Sorrento, Italy, which is on Amalfi Coast, and we spent just one night there, but it was the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Kelly said. “I felt like I was in 'Mamma Mia.'”
Kelly said she had never shadowed a doctor before and this experience was interesting to her because she had the opportunity to see surgeries in person.
Spano, however, said though she shadowed doctors before in the States, this experience was different in that the doctors within the program were more in-depth in their teaching and explaining.
“I feel like (Doctors in Italy) kind of gave me a sense of ‘I know that this is what I want to do now’,” Spano said. “I want to go to medical school, and I’ve been leaning towards the anesthesia route and there was a doctor I followed for like a whole week, and he explained every little thing about anesthesia and all of this stuff."
Neytcheva said she would love for their students to leave the program with a deeper understanding of their own motivations towards the field. She said she hopes this program pushes students to complete their studies and everything else that is required to reach their career goals.
Luna-Martinez said this program has provided her with great friendships and a sense of home, as well as a growth in independence and passion toward her career. Her biggest advice, Luna-Martinez said, is to take the risk and apply for the fellowship program.
“It’s a really neat program,” Spano said. “You would meet all kinds of different people that were in different programs and experience all these different things with all these different people, and it’s something that you don’t get just by studying at Tech or staying in your hometown.”