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.
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.
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.
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.