4 Weeks That Will Last A Lifetime

To the town, the hospital, the doctors, the other fellows, the country, the Gilman Scholarship; thank you. I truly was “forever touched” by my experience, the people I met, the knowledge that I gained, and the places I visited.  I will carry this with me throughout my entire life.

On my trip to Spain in summer 2017 to shadow medical doctors in a hospital, I gained a sense of self-awareness as well as cultural appreciation. I was humbled and forced to recognize that my view of the world and health and healthcare is only as wide as my experiences. It was easy for me, at first, to compare what I was used to seeing and doing in the United States to what was done in Spain, but it didn’t help anyone to compare what was in Spain to what I was used to. I decided to pay attention to how things were done in Spain and to learn about their culture and way of life. I learned not to compare and judge, but to investigate and appreciate the culture I was in, and by doing so, I gained a tolerance of difference as well.

I moved around through the medical specialties at the hospital and was able to see much more than expected. I shadowed in neurology, gynecology and obstetrics, pediatrics, and hospital pharmacy. The shadowing experience at the hospital was extremely impactful. I was able to see multiple surgeries and operations, simple check-ups and consultations, as well as the research and investigating performed by the doctors. The information that I learned from the doctors and everything that I was able to see in the hospital has helped me to better understand patient-doctor interactions, medical professions, discussing the pros and cons of government-run healthcare, describing how a hospital works, and aided me in determining the areas of medicine I am, and am not, interested in pursuing. Every doctor there impacted me in one way or another, and a handful made lasting impressions. I am thankful for all of the doctors that took the time to stop and explain to me exactly what they were doing and why it was being done. This made my shadowing experience worthwhile and helped me to better understand and gain more knowledge in that area.

As an individual who is not wholly in tune with how a hospital works, I was lucky to find doctors across departments very happy to be joined by an American intern. The opportunity to spend such long, uninterrupted time in the hospital allowed me to gain insight into the progression of hospital life. The physicians and staff all demonstrated the vital components of a physician’s mental toolbox. I learned that ability and medical knowledge alone do not fully heal a patient. Rather, character, compassion, and understanding are what separate good doctors from great ones. Talking with these professionals about their own life decisions helped me firmly evaluate my own desires to pursue my M.D. degree, setting me onto the path that I am still continuing to walk.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer while I was abroad as well. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I spent 1 hour tutoring the doctors in their English. This was rewarding as well as educational because I got to learn more about the Spanish culture, way of life, and political policies compared to the United States when speaking one-on-one with the doctors about these specific topics. I gained a better understanding of the Spanish language as well. It was nice to be able to give my time back to help the doctors as they were spending a lot of their time teaching us students about their jobs and duties in their positions at the hospital while we shadowed them.

While in Spain, I was exposed to the European Healthcare System. The major difference between the healthcare system in Spain compared to that of the United States is that Spain’s healthcare is government-run. Citizens of Spain have access to free state Spanish healthcare, paid partly by social security payments, which is deducted from wage. Through experiencing these differences between U.S. and international healthcare, I am now able to distinguish the areas of overlap in these healthcare systems, clarifying the essential elements of medicine and the physician’s role. Since I was placed at a government-run hospital, I saw firsthand the pros and cons of government-run healthcare and now feel prepared to participate effectively in the debate surrounding the role of government in U.S. healthcare.

The friendships that I made with the other fellows on the trip I anticipate to become lifelong. We spent endless days exploring beautiful Spain and making the best stories from the nights out on the town together.  The trip would not have been the same without them. We were already planning trips to visit each other across the United States over the years.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the small town of Alcázar de San Juan. It was a perfect place of stay for my 4 weeks in Spain. Although it did not always have the excitement of a big city, I never felt unsafe wandering the town on my own, or walking home late. The people were friendly and welcoming. From the restaurant owners, to the hotel staff, the doctors, and the townspeople – everyone was inviting and seemed happy to have us in their town. The small-town experience also allowed the interaction with the Spanish culture to be more authentic. The restaurants in Alcázar served authentic Spanish dishes and hardly anyone in the town spoke any English – they do not get many American tourists coming through their rural area. When I think of Spain now, I do not think of the Royal Palace or the beaches of Valencia, I think of the people there. I think of the other fellows who grabbed tapas with me and strolled along the streets of Madrid, the doctors who invited me into their home for dinner, and the people in Alcázar de San Juan that quickly turned into friends.

This experience gave me exposure to multiple themes associated with modern medicine. Compassion, global health, and the importance of a patient-centered workplace are all concepts that can be directly experienced while on hospital rounds. The lessons learned about such topics are directly applicable to questions I may be asked throughout the medical school application process. The social components I encountered in the hospital of Alcázar de San Juan have led to me embracing this medical journey. Moreover, the chance to shadow physicians of multiple specialties, from multiple nationalities, and operating under a different healthcare system served to truly enhance my view of medicine.

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