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Medicine in the Mediterranean

Barton College student Sarah Humphries shares her Study Abroad experience.

Atlantis Clinical Fellowship

When I came to college, my mom told me to be on the lookout for opportunities to study abroad. She made me aware of the benefits of it, but most of the time I did not think twice about it. I heard about Atlantis Fellowships and began to talk to one of my professors, Dr. Pennington, about it. We looked into the program and decided it would be ethically sound and a great opportunity for me to get clinical experience and travel abroad. I went to Italy, and it was such an invaluable experience. I learned a lot about Italy’s healthcare system, its culture, and amazing food. I met great people from all over America and Canada who are also pursuing medicine and networked with doctors and professors in Italy where I stayed. I enjoyed traveling to different parts of the country from Florence and Pisa to Cinque Terre and Lake Como.

A Day in The Life

A day in the life of an Atlantis Fellow was a long one. We lived in a small apartment with only one bathroom, a living room/kitchen area, and we had a very small area upstairs where there were four beds. Monday through Thursday at 6 a.m., we would wake up and enjoy breakfast together before beginning our half-hour walk to the hospital. Adjusting to the time difference was a struggle. We would shadow from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. We would enjoy lunch at the hospital or walk back to our apartment to eat before afternoon classes started at the hospital. The fellowship I selected included an MCAT class taught by a peer who mastered and scored in the 90th percentile on the MCAT. My peer, Aaron, taught class Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. After class, we would have time to ourselves to explore the town, continue our studies, complete homework, and eat dinner. Monday and Wednesday nights were our group dinner nights in which all 14 of us in the program would go to a restaurant selected by our site manager Manlio. It was usually followed by free gelato—my favorite part of the week. Fridays were our guided excursion days. Manlio traveled with us and gave us time to live a day fully submerged in the Italian culture. Manlio was amazing in his ability to teach Italian etiquette, culture and history, and relate the topics back to the rich medical history of Italy. Friday nights through Sunday, we had time to ourselves to travel anywhere we wanted.


The hospital that we shadowed was named Fondazione IRCCS Policlinico San Matteo. My first week in Italy, I had the opportunity to shadow in orthopedics. I was very excited because I thought that this was 100% where I was going to go with my career. During this week, I shadowed a physician working with outpatients prior to surgery and post-operation. The interactions between patient and physician were completely Italian. Without knowing much of the language, I had a difficult time understanding every interaction. Our responsibility as fellows was to understand that patients are every physician’s priority, as they are in America, so these doctors did not have very much time to spend translating for us. By the end of the trip, we learned enough Italian to help us understand parts of the interactions between patient and physician. The rest of the week I scrubbed into the OR and observed a reverse shoulder replacement and a damaged hip arthroplasty repair. It was very exciting, and I loved every minute of it. The next week, I was in general surgery because I had mentioned that I was also interested in oncology. I watched tumor removals from the intestines. This was interesting, but this is also the week that I realized that surgery is not exactly what I want to do. The reason I am no longer interested in surgery is because of the demanding lifestyle of a surgeon. I decided this after speaking with other fellows and surgeons. The third week of shadowing was my absolute favorite because this is when I decided that being a Primary Care Physician is where I feel most passionate. I shadowed in Internal Medicine with a physician named Professor Perlini. Perlini was amazing when interacting with his patients, and truly made them feel cared for in more ways than just physical. He went out of his way to teach another fellow and me how to read Electrocardiographs and cardiac ultrasounds. I learned what it was like to make rounds in the morning, take the most important coffee break of the day at 11 a.m., and how important it is to take care of the patient as another human being and not just a disease to treat and send home.


Upon arrival at the beginning of the trip, my fellow students and I explored the town we would be staying in together for the next month. We had dinner together, walked around town, and explored the medical museum at The University of Pavia. The entire group decided to travel together to Cinque Terre, the five adjacent beach towns that you could spend the day hiking through. It was beautiful and worth every breathtaking step. On another excursion, I went with two other fellows to Florence, and we explored Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. On the way home, I decided to travel out on my own to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. It was worth the extra train ride. The last weekend, I stayed with seven others in Bellagio, one of the towns on Lake Como. We had a great time spending our last weekend in Italy relaxing by the beautiful mountains and swimming in the lake at the lido. On the ferry that took us back to Como for our train, we were able to see George Clooney’s Lake Como home!

Everything about Italy was a dream come true. I couldn’t have picked a better country for my travel-abroad experience. I could talk all day about all the amazing procedures I got to experience and all the great things I learned about healthcare and the country. This trip was so much more to me than a vacation, more than a trip to a beautiful country, and more than just study abroad. It was an invaluable moment of realization and growth, and it led me to find a deeper passion for medicine. If it weren’t for Barton and the International Studies Scholarship, I would not have been able to pursue this opportunity; and I am so grateful for everyone who played a role in getting me there. This includes my professors for pushing me to pursue my dreams and goals, to Jacqueline Fischer for encouraging me that it was possible, Dr. Searcy for his incredible support from the very beginning, and so many more!