Cindy Tong - 2015 Program Participant
Why did you decide to apply for an international program?
As a second-year pre-medical student attending a highly competitive university, I have applied to a multitude of medical and health related programs before. While having been accepted to a few, I was also rejected to so many more. However, I never discouraged myself to keep on trying. So, I decided to expand my scope of view. I already enrolled in an eight week study abroad program in England, and I wanted to maximize the number of experiences I had while being in Europe.
Lo and behold came the Atlantis Project. I knew that I wanted an organized and more importantly legitimate pre-medical or pre-health program that I could talk about during any type of professional interview. I also knew that I wanted an adventure different than anything I have done in the States. I wanted an environment where I could feel free and see everything new for the first time, and I couldn't have asked for anything better and more fulfilling than the Atlantis Project.
Why did you choose Atlantis Project?
To be honest, at first I thought this program was a scam. Coming from a world of tough competition amongst pre-medical undergraduates and knowing basically every medical program on-campus as well as in neighboring hospitals, I yearned for a program that would not only boost my resume but would also give me the adventure of a lifetime. Lo and behold came the Atlantis Project, but I didn't believe that a program this intriguing was legit. After hours of thoroughly researching the program and scouring through online reviews, I was still not convinced. The intimate learning experience between doctor and student and the international site were nothing I've ever heard or seen before as an undergraduate. I honestly thought it seemed too good to be true.
I contemplated over applying for this program for a long time after being rejected from a program I've desperately wanted since beginning college. However, thankfully my friends were so supportive and encouraged me to take a risk, because the worst thing that could happen is that I would be rejected again. I took their advice and turned in my application, without raising my hopes and expectations.
I can genuinely say it was the best risk I've taken. After talking back and forth via email with the project coordinator, I was deeply convinced into joining the program for the summer. I chose this program purely out of luck to be honest, and I'm incredibly grateful and glad for all of the help and education I've received.
What was your favorite part about Albacete?
I was placed in Albacete, Spain, for two weeks at the end of August. I knew nothing of this location since I had only heard of the big cities, like Barcelona and Madrid, but Google Maps and Images helped a lot. However, all my research couldn't even begin to describe the uniqueness and beauty of Albacete that I had the privilege to see. Since it isn't a touristy city, there were no lines of traffic or loud city noise that I grew up with. It was serene, peaceful, and wonderful.
My favorite part of Albacete would definitely have to be the people. Since it was a smaller city, everyone seemed to knew each other and were incredibly friendly. They didn't act exclusive or treated us coldly as tourists, even though for me it seemed that I was invading their environment. They treated us with such kindness and patience that I didn't see from the other places I visited while studying abroad weeks before. After only a few days, it felt like home.
What made your internship experience unique?
I shadowed at anesthesiology, plastic surgery, cardiac surgery, thoracic surgery, and internal medicine, and I maintained the ethical code set up by the AAMC for working abroad. The hospitals we shadowed were, according to Google, some of the best in Spain. The hospitals never publicized this part and I never heard any of the doctors mention this, which I respected and appreciated greatly. However, the most unexpected aspect was how close students get to shadow the doctors.
They were humble and, although I was so eager to learn from them, they were just as eager to learn from us about English and the American culture. The doctors always encouraged us to see the procedures up close and personal; I stood literally a little more than a foot from the patient without contaminating anything. We were allowed to allow take photos and videos, with the patient's' consent beforehand. Although nothing was hands-on learning as expected, the doctors always thoroughly explained to us the procedures and equipments used. It was more than anything I could have learned from a textbook and a truly unforgettable journey.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
Our Atlantis Project coordinator was extraordinary. Before the program started, we had to share preferences of which departments we wanted to look at, which was nerve-racking since there were too many to choose from. I also had a lot of questions pertaining to the program, because of my anxiety, and he was so happy to answer all of them. He was more than I could ask for.
At the site, we were allowed to alter our schedules so that if possible we could shadow at any of the given departments. He was so patient, understanding, and even outright said that he would do anything to ensure that we would get the most out of this program. His dependability and kindness also made him a great friend. During our free time excursions, he made sure that we were all accommodated and that we were having fun. The best part was that no matter how many times he's seen these places he still had a lot of fun with us. He knew that we were touristy and made jokes about it, which was fantastic.
Overall, he made the program more fun and less stressful. He also treated us as adults, which was refreshing. Nothing was strictly mandatory, and every choice we made was up to our own discretion. The mutual respect we had for one another definitely made living in Spain for two weeks comfortable.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Since the program lasted two weeks after my eight week study abroad program, I was so exhausted and ready to go home. I actually skipped two days of shadowing, which looking back I do sort of regret. I wish I would have spent these days in the operating room, observing more procedures and talking to the doctors who were so nice, and had unbelievable stories to tell outside of the operating room. I also wish that I hung out more with the other Atlantis Project fellows in the beginning. Since I was so tired, I tried to catch up on sleep. Rather than doing this, I should have just ignored it, since I never know when I can return or live in an entirely new place.
Just a day at the hospital
Describe a day in the life of your internship.
Breakfast would begin at 8:30 a.m. At around 8:50 a.m. I would walk with those who were also shadowing at the same department to the hospitals. The time period for shadowing would vary, since it would be between four and five hours. Depending on the doctor, we could also have breaks. However, since I shadowed at mostly surgical departments, there would sometimes be no break since a procedure could last for up to five hours. I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF THIS!
When I felt tired standing for so long, as the doctors did, it was really inspiring and it made me switch my focus from pursuing a more clinical medical field to surgery. Even when something seemed boring or repetitive, the doctors would do something different or explore a different area requiring different techniques. Eeven if they didn't, it was incredible to see the delicate nature of surgical procedures up close and personal and get more chances to examine how they do it. I eagerly took so many notes, pictures, and videos on my phone that I would transfer to my laptop and summarize in a word document.
After shadowing, it was all free time. On one day for each week, we would teach a doctor English using our own curriculum. On another day, we would go on a half-day excursion an hour outside of the city. On the rest of the days, we would grab lunch and talk about our undergraduate lives. Siesta was definitely a great part of the Spanish culture, and I strictly abided to it. At about 9 p.m., we would grab dinner with each other, and our coordinator would join us on most nights. After dinner, it was also free time again. Since the drinking age is 18 in Europe, we would go for drinks afterwards before returning home to prepare for the next day.
For the one free weekend we had, some fellows stayed back and some traveled. For me, I decided to stay back since I had already traveled so much beforehand and didn't have the budget anymore.
What did you enjoy doing on your free time?
Living in a city and suburban environment, I was not used to seeing forests and nature scenes. Since we did spend a lot of time separated from each other while shadowing, I enjoyed any quality time we all spent together.
My favorite excursion was visiting Riopar, which is a ghost town on top of a mountain about an hour away from Albacete. We hiked part this amazing mountain, which had breathtaking views of forests and waterfalls. We then visited the ghost town, which had an occupancy of one person. While interacting with other tourists, we also got to visit a Christian church where the Crusaders were said to have built. Being a history buff myself, I was in such awe at this great history. I also got a chance to drink water from a well that drew water from the mountain springs, which was so delicious and fresh. We then climbed to the peak and saw a panoramic view of Riopar, and of course took our obligatory pictures. We also then swam in a small freshwater lake for some time before returning home.
During my time outside of the hospital, I really got to know the other fellows. We talked a lot about the differences in our colleges, which may be boring to some but was eye-opening. We also shared personal stories and our coordinator also joined us. After a lot of joking around and laughing at being tourists together, I really got to know these people who I still keep in touch with.
What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?
We lived in college-style dormitories with our own room, bathroom, A/C, wifi, a gym, a recreational room, and a pool. It was only about 10 minutes of walking distance from the hospital, which was very convenient. There was a front-desk staff who were also very accommodating and helpful for guiding us around the city. My coordinator even provided us with a lot of snacks and water in our rooms before we arrived, and he even picked us up from the airport. Overall, the accommodations transcended my expectations.
Relaxing view during break time
Now that you're home, how has interning abroad impacted your life?
This program helped me realize that I do want to pursue a career in surgery. The thought of cutting into people and having that huge responsibility everyday for the rest of a professional career was absolutely terrifying, yet I was always intrigued and part of me wanted to say yes. The two weeks of intensive shadowing and the advice I received from various doctors I got to know changed my focus, and I am grateful to have had this opportunity. It has made me more motivated, focused, and driven.
This program also helped me to believe in myself. Living in the States all my life, I didn't know how I would like physically being away from my comfort zone. The thought of being abroad for so long gave me a lot of anxiety before the trip that I became sleepless. Through every risk I took, mistake I made, and experience I had in Europe, I regret nothing. Everything that I have seen and learned allowed me to think and somewhat re-evaluate my life. I've learned to trust in myself more and stand by my decisions. There was a new and profound sense of freedom that allowed me to be more adventurous and understand what it's like to "enjoy every minute of life" from here on out.