DoctorsinItaly, a program for students going into the healthcare profession, reinvested an ASU student’s interest in becoming a neurosurgeon.
Augustus Storm, a freshman studying biological sciences spent four weeks in the program this past summer. Originally planning for three, Storm extended his time after immersing himself in the culture and medical system giving him the opportunity to gain more than 100 shadowing hours to put toward a medical school application.
Not related to Doctors Without Borders, DoctorsinItaly, established in 2018, is a fellowship program focused on providing students with the opportunity to learn about healthcare and the daily life of medical professionals by shadowing physicians across surgery, medicine, orthopedics, cardiology, oncology, pediatrics, emergency medicine and beyond in Italy, according to its website.
Throughout his four weeks, Storm experienced a number of opportunities to enhance his medical knowledge which included observing a neurological medical procedure that reinvested his "interest in becoming a neurosurgeon."
“I was kind of floating between what sort of surgeon I wanted to be,” Storm said. “It just really sparked that fire.”
Storm received a letter of recommendation after completing the program, which realigned his vision and passion for learning. He also gained opportunities to use later on in his journey to medical school including a research opportunity to potentially gain internship credit for his major through the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.
"Just a few days into the start of the program, Storm was one of the most active students," said Federico Arena, Doctors in Italy growth operations associate and former on-site coordinator.
Storm and many other students in the program were in a unique position as most pre-med students don't experience shadowing opportunities as early on in their education.
Martina Conte, DoctorsinItaly admissions coordinator, said in an email the program was established to create relevant international experiences for future healthcare professionals and help them prepare for a career in a global community.
The idea came about to make sure that the future of healthcare has no boundaries and no barriers in connecting to culture, language, and understanding, said Nadia Neytcheva, co-founder and program director of DoctorsinItaly.
“We realized that pre-health students and future healthcare professionals, in general, have this need to experience their profession as soon as they can,” Neytcheva said.
DoctorsinItaly works closely with Bocconi University in Milan, which sponsors exemplary societies and projects, giving the fellowship a mark of quality.
Neytcheva said it is meant to put students out of their comfort zone, readying them to make connections with others who have the same passion for healthcare and to be immersed into a real healthcare environment with doctors who are caring for patients.
The program has hosted students from Canada, South America, European countries and the United States but is open to students from all over the world.
Ninety-three universities participated in the summer 2022 program, and 120 American universities have participated since the program’s start in 2018.
Students learn about a different healthcare system, different ways of managing patients and different roles in healthcare that may not exist in the United States.
Neytcheva said this can help cement the students' decisions and bring them the confidence they need when the path becomes harder years down the road. But it can also help those students who want to rule out healthcare as a future career.
Storm said he learned the virtue that comes with being a surgeon, seeing firsthand the seriousness of placing hands in the life of somebody else.
He said given that there was no language barrier in the operating room, surgeons would explain the procedure, quiz the students and keep them engaged.
“Being able to once immerse yourself in something you wish to pursue as a career and then also be surrounded by history at some of the earliest documented or still standing cultures is really cool,” Storm said.
Neytcheva said the program provides students the opportunity to have experiences that tourists don't. With the different excursions and group activities, they were able to learn about Italian culture from the on-site coordinators.
But Neytcheva wants to expand. DoctorsinItaly is working on finding new hospital partners and moving out of Italy’s borders.
“We want more and more students to get to know that this opportunity exists," Neytcheva said. "Especially students who are first-generation healthcare future healthcare professionals, and they may not have enough support and enough mentorship and they may not be confident enough to dream of themselves as future professionals."
Currently, DoctorsinItaly is expanding its outreach by increasing scholarships to give more opportunities to students.
“If you haven't been exposed to something, it's hard to dream of it and to see yourself doing it. So we want them to know that this opportunity exists and you don't need to have connections to participate,” Neytcheva said.
Edited by Jasmine Kabiri, Wyatt Myskow and Luke Chatham.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com and follow @AlyssaBickle1 on Twitter.
Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.
Alyssa Bickle is a staff reporter, writing for the community and culture desk. She is a writing tutor for University Academic Success Programs, and a fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. She is pursuing bachelors degrees in journalism and political science.