Spain is such an incredible country full of beautiful people who are truly so kind. I had an amazing opportunity this summer (July 2015) to go to Guadalajara, Spain (1 hr from Madrid by train) to shadow and observe many different specialities. It was truly an unforgettable experience.
When I first landed in the Madrid airport, it was extremely large and overwhelming. However, I am the type of person who does not have a lot of fears when I travel. I love new experiences and visiting new countries. I knew maybe five words in Spanish and idd not know much about Spanish culture. The program did provide very specific details on how to get from the airport to the program site. It was extremely useful, but there is only so much information can do. The next part is very much up to the individual to seek out help from locals (who were extremely kind) and do the best you can. Luckily, I found a few other Atlantis fellows by overhearing some conversations spoken in English. Together, we were able to get to the correct train station in Madrid (Atocha) and get to our respective program locations. It was fine once I was in Guadalajara because my program coordinator (who I became so fond of) was waiting for me. She was waiting for me at the train station and paid for the cab ride (as they indicate) and brought me to the dormitories. Each program site will look different, but the one in Guadalajara was a college dormitory. However, because it was summer the students were on break and we were able to use the facility. It was not extremely nice (relatively speaking), but it was still a safe haven by the end of the trip. I did not encounter any bugs or anything like that but it is a bit older of a facility. They changed my sheets every week and provided breakfast Monday-Friday. The breakfast is the same every day, but you become appreciative by the end of it. If you are the high maintenance type, I recommend you also learn what it's like for other nations to live, even if they are considered an affluent, developed nation. It is important to immerse yourself in all settings and learn from any type of environment, in my opinion.
Each day we went to the hospital 8-3pm and we normally took the bus which was about a 10 min walk form the dorms. A bus card was provided for us and the walk was very easy (slight incline). The town of Guadalajara is very quaint and pretty. It is not a large town, but there are still a few things to see. There is a mall near the hospital that the students would often visit after their time at the hospital.
At the hospital, we had two rotations per week. I was in Guadalajara for 4 weeks and was assigned up to 8 specialities. However, there were certain specialities that the other fellows were more interested in and if the coordinator thought it was fit, you could re-arrange the specialities that you really desired to have, but were not assigned to. This time was so valuable to me and I will cherish this for the rest of my career. The Spanish doctors are so incredible that I do not even know where to begin in describing them. A few relationships I was able to make were with a few anesthesiologists, the chief of nephrology and an oncologist. Personally, I am not interested in a surgical specialty at all, and so when I was assigned to anesthesia, I did not think it would be one bit exciting. However, I tried to keep an open mind about it and I was able to learn so much. The anesthesiologist I was assigned to was a very young doctor. It was only her 2nd or 3rd year as an attending but she was in her 20s. She was so friendly even though her english was very limited. In the operating room, there is a lot of time with anesthesiologists that you have to wait. So it was a perfect opportunity to talk to the doctor and learn from them. She explained the healthcare system in Spain and what it entails. It is so different from the U.S. and there are aspects that the U.S. healthcare system should adopt. The doctor was always keen on showing me what the surgery was about. She did not know the specifics about each operation because she is not a surgeon, but she would share all the knowledge of the procedures she could with me. I have never felt so personally mentored by a doctor that I had just met. I was able to show my enthusiasm each morning with her that she even invited me to come on other days and to observe an on-call shift. With the approval of my coordinator, I was able to do all of these things. I can list so many different interactions I had with each doctor that I was observing, but this review would never end. I have so much to say about each doctor that I truly do not know where to begin. I still keep in touch with many of the doctors from Spain that I met. The Chief of Nephrology was so encouraging. He gave me words of wisdom and things I can do to improve as a pre-medical student. Still to this day, when he responds to my emails, he always says that he believes in me and affirms me to tell me that I will become a great doctor. It is these kinds of relationships that I was able to build, that have become invaluable experiences to me. The Chief of Nephrology told me that he would love to hear about my pre-medical journey to the end and even when I am able to earn my own degree for him to know how my practice is going. I was so encouraged by him. No doctor has ever shown me that kind of faith that I can accomplish everything I want to. Of course there were specialities that were not as exciting, but I always kept an open mind and I have been able to learn something even from the less exciting specialities.
In addition to the invaluable hospital experiences I was able to gather, there were always two cultural immersion activities a week. These were optional (but they are included in the program fee, so it is recommended to attend them) and with the entire group. My group had about 13 students, including myself and so it was a very manageable size group to go around with. These times were very fun and I learned a lot about Central Spain. We always had a tour guide. In Europe tour guides are highly acclaimed and have to have a lot of education and usually have several masters in different areas such as religion, geography, politics, etc. These highly educated tour guides would explain the history of the areas we visited and it was very informational and fun to hear from a Spanish tour guide.
The dinners we had were pretty excellent. There were 3 (maybe 4) a week and there would always be so much food that I would nearly burst. Additionally, on the weekends, a lot of people would travel by train to different parts of Spain. I went to Valencia with a few of my friends that I made in the program and it was a very fun weekend. Another weekend I spent on-call with the anesthesiologists and another weekend, I was able to visit Madrid (an incredible city). The last weekend I went to Madrid again to shadow a pediatric oncology (my dream speciality) in one of the major hospitals in the city. They did not have pediatric oncologists in Guadalajara. Even this opportunity only came through the Chief of Nephrology who was able to set me up with his friend in Madrid to go and observe. There, I was even offered a research position if ever came back to Spain in an oncology lab. I was so amazed at how eager they are to partner with global health partners. They are so passionate about making medicine globally united to overcome diseases quicker and more efficiently. These opportunities all came from efforts of getting to know the doctors I was shadowing and sharing the interests that I have.
Before this review turns into any longer of an essay, I will say that every penny was worth this program. I am thankful to the Atlantis Project for what it was able to provide for me. It is not a perfect program but it is very invaluable to partake as a fellow at the Atlantis Project. I would highly recommend this program to any pre-medical student. Experiencing European healthcare has never been so rewarding.