Pre-Med Study Abroad: 10 Reasons I Did It
About Anne Marie
Anne Marie Conrad is a 2021 graduate of Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts with degrees in Global Studies and Spanish along with a certificate in Medical Humanities. She has explored her passion for global healthcare by doing undergraduate research on best practices for provision of healthcare across language and cultural barriers. Anne Marie was an Atlantis Fellow to Valladolid, Spain during the Summer of 2019.
After my very first pre-med information session as a freshman considering pre-med at Purdue University, I was already overwhelmed. Not only was it daunting to get in volunteering, shadowing, clinical experience, and working, on top of doing well in my classes, I felt pressure to use every free moment spending time doing something that would make me a better medical school applicant. I learned early on to invest my time in things I was truly interested in and to go deep rather than wide. I got creative in finding ways to be involved that spanned many of my interests. One of these valuable things to which I dedicated my time and effort was a study abroad program specifically designed for premed students. Here are ten reasons why I did it, and why maybe you should, too:
A top priority of mine going into undergrad was to take the opportunity to go abroad. I wanted the chance to travel, an experience that would allow me to challenge myself in an unfamiliar environment and broaden my worldview, and to meet people who’d been socialized in a different cultural environment than mine. As a Global Studies and Spanish major on a pre-medical track, I believed that time as a student abroad would be a great experience for me in adjusting to institutions and social structures in a country other than my own. And I not only got to study abroad, I specifically focused on pre-med study abroad, which combined the advantages of any study abroad experience with the need I had to prepare for medical school.
As a student dedicating half of my undergraduate education to Spanish language study, it was very important to me to get language practice in any way I could. The program I did does NOT require language skills, but, as a physician I plan to be able to work and live in areas where it is necessary that I am fluent in Spanish. Although I was still far from being able to communicate in Spanish on a near-native level, I looked forward to committing myself to consistently using Spanish in my everyday life, rather than only in my classes and with Spanish-speaking friends. I had experienced firsthand the significance of immersive language learning, and I was excited to dedicate myself to Spanish.
Exercise and build upon academic knowledge
As part of my plan of study, I had taken courses such as anatomy and physiology as well as courses in the Spanish department geared toward terminology used in the health professions. I was excited at the opportunity to be able to actually use this knowledge in practice. I have found that being able to use knowledge learned in the classroom out in the ‘real world’ is one of the most effective ways to solidify that knowledge in my mind. By going abroad on a hospital shadowing-focused pre-med study abroad program, I was able to exercise my knowledge. And although I didn’t get to do it, note that some pre-health study abroad programs combine shadowing with the possibility of taking a Harvard Medical School HMX course online.
Use time wisely
Time as a premed student is a valuable resource. I knew I had to use mine wisely if I was going to get through all of my academic and extracurricular prerequisites. When I found out about Atlantis, a program that would give me invaluable clinical experience in the form of shadowing hours as well as give me the opportunity to travel abroad for a summer, I thought I couldn’t have found a better overlapping fit for my goals. As I’m sure you’re well aware, pre-meds’ breaks and summers are often used to do research, study for the MCAT, and get clinical experience and shadowing hours. Since studying abroad was a priority for me, I knew I’d be using at least one of those time slots to do so. The fact that I could check two things (study abroad and clinical shadowing) off of my wishlist at once was such a relief to me. It also freed up some time to be used toward other endeavors.
Observe many specialties in one program
Because I did clinical shadowing through a program like Atlantis, I was not responsible for contacting individual physicians and getting approval to observe them. I also was able to see four different specialties through one program. Within four weeks, I was able to get over twenty hours in each of four different departments: orthopedic surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology, and ophthalmology. Had I gone about finding similar shadowing opportunities on my own in the US, I would have had to contact four different physicians within four different departments of potentially four different medical complexes. Atlantis saved me a ton of legwork in finding those specific opportunities. Not to mention getting the chance to do all of this in Spain! Which brings me to my next point…
Up close look at a different healthcare system
Shadowing abroad through Atlantis gave me the chance to get an up close and personal view of the Spanish healthcare system in a way that no other program could. As a pre-med student who is interested in possibly going into healthcare policy one day, I relish the opportunity to see the way a different healthcare system works in order to potentially bring the best parts of another system and incorporate them into policies at home.
One of my favorite parts of pre-med study abroad in general, and of Atlantis in particular, was the opportunity to meet and become friends with other premed students from different schools and at different places in their pre-med journey. I’m still in touch with many of them, and it has been such a delight to continue those relationships both personally and professionally. I now have friends all over the US with similar goals who can talk me through their process, give me advice and vice versa. I’ve also been able to stay in touch with the doctors I shadowed and the Spanish medical students I had the chance to meet!
Enrich my soft skills
Atlantis was a great way to support my liberal arts education. It gave me the opportunity to interact with people of a different culture and develop my soft skills as a global citizen and communicator. When living, working, and studying abroad, skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and flexibility are consistently tested and developed. Not only was this experience directly relevant to my Global Studies major, but I was able to develop valuable skills necessary for any career in which I’ll be working with other people. Also, keep in mind that many of these soft skills are AAMC competencies, i.e., the elements that medical schools use to assess applicants.
Mature and develop independence
There’s no way around it: being out of your comfort zone in a different country will force you to mature and develop independence in ways that even living alone in your own country could never. While you have support 100% of the time during an Atlantis shadowing program, you’re given the freedom to make your own independent choices. For example: what will you do with your free time? Will you travel on weekends? If so, what plans will you make? How will you choose to spend your money while abroad? All of these were decisions I had to make while I was in Atlantis, and I believe making them made me a more mature and independent person.
Personal development that can become interview material
I wholeheartedly believe students should engage in activities because they sincerely care about or are interested in them rather than for the purpose of building their resume. At the same time, I think it’s valuable for students to be intentional about seeking out and taking part in opportunities that prove they truly are invested in what they say they want to pursue. For me, the Atlantis program solidified in my mind that healthcare is indeed where I see my future self while simultaneously giving me tons of experiences from which I can draw in a potential interview setting. (Atlantis has a great page that shows how pre-med study abroad impacts answers to medical school application interview questions, and a page showing videos of alumni, who are admitted to 40 of the top 50 M.D. programs in the U.S.)
I’m so thankful I was able to be abroad for a summer while simultaneously being proactive about my desire to go to medical school. I know it’s tough as a pre-med to choose which endeavors to commit yourself to, but I can confidently say that my experience in a pre-med study abroad program was the right fit for me and was absolutely worth it.
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