Why did you choose this program?
I chose the Atlantis program because it offered me two things that I was eager to accomplish.
One, it provided me the opportunity to shadow physicians for over 60 hours in a variety of hospital departments. In the U.S., I have had difficulty finding physicians to shadow or hospitals with shadowing programs that give you enough experience in shadowing. I believe shadowing is critical in a pre-med’s decision regarding what type of physician they want to become, and if medicine is truly the best career path for them.
Second, this program offered shadowing in a foreign country in Europe, like Greece, where I went. By shadowing in a healthcare system other than your own, you truly get to experience global medicine. There is so much that cannot be taught about global medicine; what you really need is first-hand experience. There is so much of value to learn from foreign health care systems and I believe my experience will help to make me an even better physician one day.
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The Atlantis program is great for pre-med students traveling outside of the U.S. for the first time, especially by themselves. The program includes lodging for your entire stay, two group meals (with the other fellows and your site manager) per week, and an excursion to explore parts of the country you are visiting every week.
The program includes shadowing in the hospital for about 5-6 hours, four times a week, and your Site Manager arranges all of that in the hospital so that you get the most of your shadowing every day. The trip also provides travel insurance.
You are responsible for airfare and getting to your place of lodging from the airport. You are also responsible for the rest of your meals (other than breakfast and the two group meals per week). Prior to the start of the program, you must attend three Pre-Departure group calls where your Site Manager and Program Coordinator help you to prepare for your fellowship. With their help, I had no trouble traveling to my program and never once felt unprepared. Having a Site Manager with you during your program is incredibly helpful. As I mentioned already, s/he places you with doctors/hospital departments each day for you to shadow.
They are also there to help you navigate the city that you are staying in so that you are safe and getting the most out of your fellowship.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Fortunately, Atlantis does a great job preparing you for your fellowship program. Although Atlantis does suggest this, I want to stress the importance of trying to learn some basic proficiency in the language of the country you are visiting. I learned some Greek, but I wish I had learned more. I stress this because it will help you to get more out of your shadowing experience. While it is true that the doctors will speak to you in English, they talk to each other and to their patients in their language (Greek, in my case). It made it difficult to understand the patient-doctor or doctor-doctor dynamic. If you learn enough Greek (or whatever language they speak in the country you are visiting) to follow basic conversations in the hospital and basic medical terminology, that will go a long way in helping you to get the most out of your shadowing experience.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
For my program in Larisa, Greece, I was there for three weeks. The weeks looked like this:
Four days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday), we spent shadowing in the hospital from 8 am - 2 pm. Our group dinners were on Tuesday and Thursday.
On Wednesdays (for the first two weeks), we went on our excursions. For the first excursion, we visited Mt. Olympus, where we hiked a bit through the mountains and then went swimming in a spring/lagoon in the mountain. Then we went to a beach resort where we spent the afternoon and ate at the buffet. The second excursion took us horseback riding in Mount Olympus, then we visited a different beach right off the coast of the mountains and ate there as well. All the rest of the time (afternoons after shadowing and the weekends) we had free to do as we pleased (shopping, exploring the city, going to the beach, etc).
An average day at the hospital looked like this:
We walked 10-15 minutes to the hospital where we would change into scrubs and then meet in a break room with our Site Manager. He would tell us what doctors and departments were available for the day and split us into groups depending on where we wanted to go. Once we finished with that department or if it wasn’t working out for some reason (no patients, doctor didn’t speak English well enough, etc.), we could meet with our Site Manager again where he would assign us to a new department. We shadowed in countless surgeries, in the ER, the ICU, pediatrics, OB/GYN, orthopedics, internal medicine, and urology. At the end of the day (~2 pm), we would change and walk back to the hotel.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear going into the program was getting to my hotel from the airport in a foreign country that speaks a language that I do not know, especially since I was by myself and traveling outside of the US for the first time. My flight landed in Thessaloniki, Greece. I then had to get my luggage and go through customs, buy a city bus ticket that took me from the airport to the bus station. Then I had to buy another bus ticket that took me from Thessaloniki to Larisa where my program was (a 2-hour bus ride).
When I got to the Larisa bus station, I then had to take a taxi to the hotel I was staying at with all my luggage where I finally met my Site Manager. And while yes, it was as frightening and difficult as I thought it would be, I did do it. And so did all the other nine fellows in my program. That is a reflection of my biggest fears for the whole program, doing something unknown, in a foreign language, that made it so I felt like I had little control. But the total immersion really helped me to grow as an individual, and over the three weeks that I was in Greece, I became less frightened and found traveling in this unknown city less difficult.
By the time I left and had to make the same trek back to Thessaloniki to the airport, I felt no fear and I had total control of the situation. Before my fellowship, the thought of traveling overseas, especially by myself, seemed impossible. Now that I’ve done it and know how realistic and plausible it really is, I am eager for my next chance to travel again.
What was the most valuable part of your fellowship in Greece?
There were two aspects of my fellowship that I found to be the most valuable. First, as expected, I learned so much of value while shadowing in the hospital. I got so much more exposure than I could in the US, and the opportunity to experience global medicine first hand was truly invaluable. The 60+ hours I spent in the General Hospital of Larisa will stay with me always and have already helped to shape me into the physician I will someday be.
The other most valuable part of my fellowship was something that I was not expecting. It was the new family I made in Greece. I have made friends for life in the other pre-med fellows in my program. I am still in contact with them even now that I am back home, and we are already planning a reunion since we all come from different parts of the US. We are all a family now, and although we are all at different stages in our pre-med careers, we understand what it’s like for each other in ways that no one else can, and because of that, we became very close. We are a part of each other now, always.