Caitlyn Garmer - 2014 Program Participant

Church of San Roque, Portugal

The Church of San Roque in Portugal. Photo by Caitlyn Garmer

Why did you choose to intern abroad?

I chose to intern abroad because I wanted to experience what medicine in a different country is like. Health care is a huge aspect of the American system and I have been able to be a part of that through shadowing and volunteering. I knew what it was like to work in an American hospital, but one thing I am interested in is medical missions. I want to go into rural areas of the United States and other countries and help those who cannot afford health care. One step in pursuing that dream was to try interning in another country.

Why did you choose the Azores Islands?

One draw I had towards the Azores Islands is that not many people have heard of them. The Azores are one of those hidden treasures on Earth. It has many natural wonders that not many people have heard about, and that’s what I love about it. It was breath-taking and I enjoyed every minute of being there.

Pre-med intern in the Canary Islands in Portugal

Caitlyn at her internship!

What was your favorite part about interning in the Azores Islands?

The islands had so much beauty to them. One minute we could be at the beach, and then a 10 minute drive inland had us at a forest. There were many natural wonders on the island too, they had lakes, waterfalls, and natural hot springs. The island was unique and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

What made your internship unique?

The Atlantis Project was a smaller program that contained about 14 students. This allowed for only one or two people on a specialty per week. With such a small program, we spent a lot of time with the doctors, learning about each technique they used. We were also able to go into the operating room at witness surgeries first hand. Often times, the doctors would allow us to come up to the operating table to see what they were doing and explain why they chose that method. Along with hospital time, we also spent most of our free time exploring the island. There was a fine balance between learning and fun which I greatly enjoyed.

What were your housing arrangements like?

The housing was a dorm room at the local university on the island. We had our own dorm room that had two beds, a desk, dresser, closet, a bathroom and a shower. We did not have wifi in the room, but there was a wifi room down the hall. There were other students in the dorm so we were able to meet people from around the world.

What was a normal day like as an intern on Sao Miguel?

A normal day on Sao Miguel island started off with catching a ride to the hospital at 7:45 a.m. in the morning. Once we were at the hospital, we were served breakfast and had time to relax before beginning our busy day. At 9 a.m., we all separated into our specialties for the day. Some would go into the operating rooms and some would get to see other procedures. The operating room was my favorite, and I fell in love with the various surgeries we were able to observe. After the hospital, we would go to different activities on the island and we usually got dinner. Then we had free time the remainder of the night in which most of us played games or socialized with other people in the residence.

Lagoa de Fogo in Portugal

Lagoa de Fogo

What did you enjoy doing on your free time most?

I enjoyed traveling around the island on the weekends. One of my favorite places we went was Lagoa de Fogo. This was a lake at the peak of a mountain on the islands. We traveled there and hiked around the lake which was breath taking. I also enjoyed going to the local hot springs. We were able to swim in them and enjoyed the local food in the area.

How supportive would you say the local staff was through your internship?

The local staff was extremely supportive. We had a local tour guide who picked us up daily to take us to the hospital. He coordinated everything and made sure we knew where everything was in town. He showed us around and made sure we knew where the safest places to go were.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while interning in a hospital abroad?

I think one of the biggest challenges in interning abroad was the language barrier. Many of the people vaguely understood English, and had a hard time explaining things to us. It was difficult to translate what they were trying to say and we had a hard time communicating, but it also helped me learn more of the language.

How has your experience interning abroad in Portugal impacted your life?

Interning abroad was a life changing experience. I was fascinated by the concept of socialized medicine. It was a new system of health care and it was great to be able to witness how another country helps their people. I have now seen two different type of health care systems, and have some concerns over the socialized medicine. It has caused me to want to help other countries to reach a higher standard of health care. I have become more motivated to excel in my studies and be able to travel to other countries.

Would you recommend your Atlantis Project program to others?

I would recommend the Atlantis Project to anyone who is considering a career in healthcare. The Atlantis Project allows a student to be able to witness certain parts of healthcare that they would not be able to see in the United States. Due to laws and restrictions, students are not allowed in the operating room, but with the Atlantis Project, we were allowed to go into the operating room. The Atlantis Project was an amazing opportunity that I hope many students will be able to experience. 

Hiking to a waterfall in Portugal

Hike to a local waterfall

If you could go back, what is one thing you would do differently?

I wish I would have prepared more before I left on the trip. The language barrier was very difficult when we got to the island. Many of the doctors did speak some English but had a hard time translating. I would have tried to learn some Portuguese before I left for the island so I would have some knowledge of the language.