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Atlantis students in the hospital (Genoa, Italy, 2019).

Study Abroad

Pre-Med Study Abroad: How to Choose Which Program to Attend

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About Ryan

Ryan Hodge graduated from North Central College in May of 2021 as a biology major and Spanish minor on the pre-medicine track. After his sophomore year, he participated in the Atlantis Summer 2019 shadowing program in Tarragona, Spain.

Which Pre-Med Study Abroad Program Do I Choose?

With multiple study abroad programs out there for students longing for a career in the healthcare field, it can be challenging to select the perfect program. There are many competencies the AAMC believes students attending medical school should attain, but there is a limit to what one can gain from a single shadowing experience. Volunteering is essential in building one’s character, as the experience exemplifies selflessness, initiative, and a dash of ‘humble pie’ while working to help others.

However, very few (meaningful) volunteer opportunities are offered to pre-med students in a medical setting, especially abroad. Seeing a different country is an excellent adventure of cultural significance, as the experience allows one to reflect on the positive and negative sides of society in their home country. You become exposed to diverse situations in a new environment, which medical schools are always intrigued to find more about. However, it isn’t easy to find a pre-med study abroad program that fulfills multiple competencies.

The Decision-Making Process

As a pre-med myself, when considering the program I wanted to attend, I did research on pre-med programs that offered credible shadowing opportunities but also those that afforded opportunities to truly immerse oneself into a foreign culture. I weighed multiple variables, such as cost, location, duration, and true benefit of the project. My interests guided me to an Atlantis shadowing program in Spain, where I would be given the opportunity to shadow multiple specialties and visit neighboring cities in a foreign country. Additionally, I noticed that the cost seemed to be less than other travel abroad programs. 

When making this decision, I believe pre-meds should keep some things in mind. Attend a program that offers shadowing in a country that would be significant to you. I minored in Spanish in college, and therefore wanted an opportunity to practice my Spanish-speaking skills. Pick a duration that is right for you. If you get homesick, a week may suffice, and if you don’t mind being away from home, attempt to accumulate as much experience as possible. Ultimately, pick a destination that will allow you to become a better version of yourself.

First Impressions

Upon arriving in Tarragona, Spain, in the summer of 2019, I was excited to see what I could take from my pre-med study abroad experience with Atlantis. I was jet-lagged and exhausted from the flight, but I was filled with excitement as this was my first time in a foreign country. A part of me was nervous as I had not been exposed to a new or different type of culture. I was excited to shadow physicians at Hospital de San Pablo y Santa Tecla and hoped I would be able to shadow more than one specialty. I had heard there might be volunteer opportunities available, but I figured I would have to be fluent in Spanish to contribute. My mind continued to race as the first day approached. 

The Experience

Jump forward three weeks to the end of the trip. I’m on the flight back home, recollecting all that I had encountered. I was fortunate to shadow four different areas: orthopedic surgery, general surgery, internal medicine, and the emergency room. I learned Spanish medical terminology as physicians enlightened me on what specific procedures translated to in Spanish. I was exposed to a different type of medical system and noted the pros and cons of the system.

Two days during the week, we volunteered in the hospital system, tutoring hospital employees in the English language. With my minor in Spanish, the employees then reciprocated the volunteer services as I practiced my second language. Hospital employees spoke of local restaurants and venues to visit, which allowed our cohort to experience diverse eateries and locations throughout our stay. Each weekend, we had excursions to different parts of the country, including visits to Barcelona and Valencia, Spain. We observed historical monuments, busy tourist attractions, and beautiful Spanish beaches. I am thankful for the experiences I had during the program and the lasting influence it will have on my future

My Takeaway

The Atlantis program was suited well for me. Pre-Med study abroad (or pre-health study abroad) programs are an investment financially, but also an investment in yourself, and one should make sure ample time and energy are put towards the search process to ensure you make the best decision. Learning about different medical systems will be increasingly valuable as you become a medical professional, no matter what specialty or branch of medicine you end up practicing. A pre-medicine study abroad program offers a chance to step outside your comfort zone. Ultimately, an experience like this can be discussed within your medical school application and can help you get accepted into a medical school of your choice which is something every pre-med wants!

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

John Daines headshot.

John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
Zoey Petitt headshot.

Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
Yong hun Kim headshot.

Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
Megan Branson headshot.

Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
Sarah Emerick headshot.

Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
Snow Nwankwo headshot.

Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
Tiffany Hu headshot.

Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
Lauren Cox headshot.

Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
Kayla Riegler headshot.

Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.