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Atlantis Fellowship

written by: Bryn Vance

During the summer of 2019, I packed my two suitcases and left for the airport from which I was traveling to Rome to complete the Atlantis Fellowship. After much time spent in the air, we touched down in Rome. Everything was so overwhelming at first – the rush of people speaking other languages, the announcements overhead that I didn’t yet understand, the signs telling us where to go, and trying to contact an Atlantis representative who was meeting us at the airport. When I contacted the coordinator and got my bags from the baggage claim, I made my way to the café where they were sitting with some of my fellowship group members. I left with my group members to try to find our apartment. On the way there my wallet was stolen – this trip was off to a great start! Eventually, we found our way to the apartment in Trastevere where we met with our site coordinator, who was quite helpful not only in assisting me to fill out a police report in another language but also in showing us the beauty and wonder of Rome.

While the beginning of my trip felt like a succession of overwhelming events, after we got to our apartment and got acquainted with one another, the remainder of the trip was an amazing experience. During our fellowship, we went on planned group outings to places such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish steps, St. Peter’s Basilica, and other incredible sites. We also had free days where we took our own trips; for example I spent one day in Naples and Pompeii. There, I hiked Mt. Vesuvius and was able to see the island of Capri from the volcano. It was a breathtaking sight. While exploring Pompeii, we learned about the history of the people who lived there before the catastrophic volcanic eruption that buried the city under ash and stone. I have always loved history, and the history of Italy is rich with interesting places, people, and events. I greatly enjoyed being able to learn so much about another culture, while also learning about healthcare in Italy.

During our fellowship, our group was assigned to Ospedale Bambino Gesu, a pediatric hospital in Rome. There, I observed a variety of pediatric subspecialties including outpatient surgery, cardiology, endocrinology, dermatology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, neurosurgery, and neonatal surgery. The physicians were welcoming and fantastic at explaining procedures and exams. I am grateful for my time spent with these physicians, and I truly appreciate the time they took out of their very busy days to teach us. I even became Facebook friends with a top pediatric hand microsurgeon, and I now follow updates from the groundbreaking surgeries that he performs! 

 While there, I not only observed procedures and exams, but I also observed how the interactions between patients and doctors differed from those in the US. Another aspect of Italian healthcare that differs from the U.S. is that they have a universal healthcare system. I appreciated their healthcare system in that patients were able to receive complex and thorough healthcare no matter their socioeconomic status. Parents brought their toddlers for skin checks and to address issues that in the U.S. may be deemed as invalid or insufficient reasons to visit the doctor. In my experience with healthcare in the U.S., patients have to weigh many factors when deciding to make an appointment, especially the cost, whereas in Italy the patients did not have to consider such barriers to healthcare. This experience was eye-opening, and it has helped me develop my skills as a healthcare worker, especially when I returned to the U.S. and began working in an OB/GYN office. 

Being an Atlantis Fellow has taught me lessons of resiliency, adaptability, and cultural competence. It sparked a passion inside of me for global medicine, and I continue to foster that passion through working with AWHS. I look forward to practicing medicine and treating patients from diverse backgrounds. I also plan to complete medical missions to underserved areas both domestically and abroad.

Anna Vardapetyan

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