Fellowship opportunities for students have been hard to come by due to COVID-19, but one Texas A&M student was able to defy odds and landed an opportunity of a lifetime overseas.
Neuroscience junior Aidan Boriack spent three weeks of her summer in Italy shadowing world class doctors in the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program at Campus Bio-Medico University.
After searching for fellowship openings close to home, Boriack said she turned online to find a place where she could get in hours shadowing a doctor to help guide her career path. Boriack said studying overseas helped her become culturally rounded when dealing with patients.
“In the medical field being culturally well rounded is kind of essential because you’re treating a variety of different patients from different backgrounds,” Boriack said. “Being able to understand where they’re coming from, and their belief [in] certain aspects of medicine, is important to be able to relate to them in some way.”
The program focuses on allowing students to see multiple fields they are interested in to get a feel for each. Boriack said she spent four days a week in the hospital rotating through specialties she was interested in, including anesthesiology, orthopedics, obstetrics and gynecology.
“Being in Italy, and working at that hospital, you really understand the pros and cons of universal medicine versus the medicine that we have in the United States,” Boriack said. “In my future career, it’s something that I can work toward — bettering the system when it comes to payments and patient care and that sort of thing. It’s a very different system, and there [are] some good takeaways that you can bring from that.”
CEO and co-founder of the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program Nadia Neytcheva said students are given the chance to interact with a doctor from the start of their morning until mid-day. Many students would choose to stay beyond their required time to watch procedures they were interested in, Neytcheva said.
“[Students are] paired with a doctor [to] follow for the day, [they] meet the doctor and then follow him or her through surgeries and whatever the doctor has planned,” Neytcheva said.
The program is built not only for students to shadow, Neytcheva said, but also to explore Italy through day trips and weekend outings.
Of the 25 participants this summer, 24 were female, which Boriack said indicates the historical male domination of the medical field is breaking.
“Medical schools are trying to allow [in more] minorities and women, instead of what has always been,” Boriack said. “It’s awesome to see that women are more likely to take those bigger risks and join a profession that is going to take years, and they may not get married until they’re like 30 and have children until their mid-30s. We’re kind of breaking this mold of what women typically are thought to do.”
Boriack said going into the program, she was very interested in surgery as a career, though her paths were shifted after experiencing the program.
“What I learned there definitely changed my outlook on what I want to do,” Boriack said. “When I was there, I discovered that I wasn’t really interested in surgery. I wasn’t a fan of standing around in a super cold quiet room for hours and hours and hours on end. So I think I want to adjust what I’m learning to something more critical.”
Neytcheva said the program encourages travel throughout the country with excursions and day trips. Additionally, many students take it upon themselves to schedule extra travels to see the country.
“Rome is in the center of Italy, so within two, three hours with the train, you can reach pretty much everywhere,” Neytcheva said. “Once you are in Italy, you cannot not travel. It’s a must. Some of the tours and excursions we plan directly and we take the students as a group, while [some students] arranged to have getaways [during the weekends] and go to explore even more distant cities.”
Neytcheva said she encourages students who are nervous to travel overseas to apply because of the growth she has seen from previous program participants.
“At the end of the experience, they all mentioned that this has been the best occasion to grow and they were much more capable than they thought. So they gained a lot of confidence in themselves, which is part of what you experience when you go abroad to a different country on your own,” Neytcheva said. “And you’re not alone because you are always assisted by coordinators; you’re in a program, which is well structured. And so it’s a very good way to start your experiences overseas.”
Boriack said students should apply for the program to help them learn to take risks and do things outside their comfort zones.
“I was going into this not knowing a single person, not knowing what to expect, and it was life changing — really put yourself, your life, into perspective,” Boriack said. “You see what they struggle with over there with their health care system, and there’s a lot of comparing [and] contrasting when you’re there and it really, really makes you think about how we can change and how we can improve our system and what we can avoid as well.”
For students interested in the program, summer 2022 applications are now open on its website and Neytcheva said now is the time to apply.
“Ideally, students should plan to apply between now and January, and this way they can plan their financials and work on fundraising [to] get help from parents and family,” Neytcheva said. “We encourage them to start thinking now about next summer, so you have more time to dream about it.”