Alumni Spotlight: Zena Khartabil


Zena is a high school student in Austria, with a dream to practice medicine. Outside of school, she loves playing rugby with a local team.

Why did you choose this program?

I knew I wanted to do some kind of shadowing program/internship relating to medicine before applying to universities so that I would get a feel for what it is like to work in the medical field. Additionally, I knew this would be a great opportunity for me to see if a future in medicine is truly suited for me.

After spending hours researching a wide variety of programs, this one was the most intriguing: the website was very organized and easy to follow, and staff was able to answer all of my questions about the program.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Before getting accepted into a program, I had to choose a date and location for my experience. I initially chose to go to Croatia, but there wasn't enough space for my available dates. However, the staff was able to quickly and efficiently solve the issue, in which I ended up going to the Dominican Republic.

After getting accepted, they provided me with every detail I needed to know (except for the flights which I had to book myself), such as who I would be living within the student house, where my hospital placements would be, who my mentors were, some information about the area I would be staying in, and a packing list.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One piece of advice would be to plan the trip way ahead of time, especially if you're planning to go in the summer.

I made the mistake of starting to apply to the program about a month or two before the departure date, and it was pretty stressful trying to prepare for the trip in such little time. Also, spots fill up very quickly, so by applying late you risk not getting into your top program choice. I got lucky, and with the amazing help from the staff overseas, I managed to get everything organized, although it would have been better if I had started planning a while before.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Hospital placements always start early, so the day always starts with an early morning get up. It was hard at first, but you get used to it quickly. The chefs at the house prepare an amazing breakfast to start off the day.

After breakfast, everyone gets on the bus to go to their hospital placements, and the ride took about half an hour. Upon arriving at the hospital, we changed into our scrubs and waited for our mentors. My specific program was focused on surgery, so most of the time in placement was spent shadowing surgeons. When we weren't in the OR, our mentors would prepare lessons or workshops such as suturing pig feet.

Every day placement lasts for 5 hours, and we get back to the house in time for lunch: the chefs would put out leftovers from dinner the previous night.

After lunch, there is normally a fun, optional activity planned for the rest of the afternoon, such as going on a sunset cruise or going to the beach. Then, we would return for some delicious dinner and have free time to spend until lights out.

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 was going into this program knowing none of the other students; switching schools so many times was hard enough, and I wasn't sure how well I would fit in with the group. I overcame it by putting myself out there and making an effort to get to know as many people as possible, where I realized that I shouldn't have been scared in the first place.

Everyone was so like-minded since we all had an interest in medicine. I met the most amazing people during this experience, and the worst part was leaving them two weeks later. I realized that being outside of my comfort zone can sometimes be the best thing that can happen and that some of the greatest memories come from these once seemingly scary experiences.

What was the most memorable part of this experience?

What always comes to mind whenever I think back to this experience is the spinal surgery I saw.

Most surgeries we observed were general surgeries, such as abdominal hernia repairs, gall bladder removals, etc. One day, a patient came in complaining of back pain, and it was determined that she had a spinal disk out of place (aka a spinal hernia) and it needed to be operated on. The surgeon went in through the front of the neck, and replaced parts of the disc with synthetic material. I don't even remember how long it was, but it felt like barely any time had passed.

We all stood there for hours, mesmerized at how the surgeon worked his way around such a delicate part of the body. It was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, and it was then that I was sure that surgery is the ideal career path for me.