August, 30th 2023
By Preston Sparks
Auburn University junior Alicja Siek recently followed the same advice she would give to any other fellow student. “Have fun and try new things,” she said of the words of wisdom she often gives fellow classmates. “I’m one of those people who tends to hyperfocus on academics, but I’ve learned that experiences are also very important. I’d tell them to get involved in a club or group on campus, do study abroad if they can and meet new people.”
That’s exactly what Siek and a fellow Auburn student, Kate Bouchillon, did while on a recent Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program trip that they say will ultimately produce dividends toward their ultimate goal of becoming a physician.
“After graduation, I hope to spend my time interning with Doctors Without Borders in order to gain more intellectual insight into what it means to be a future physician,” said Bouchillon, a senior studying biomedical science with a pre-med concentration. “Then, I hope to go to medical school to pursue a specialty that has strong patient relationships and a consistent intellectual challenge that requires critical thinking and continuous learning.”
Both students recently returned from Italy and were greatly impressed with the Doctors in Italy program, a clinical shadowing opportunity for students who aspire to become healthcare professionals and want to see how medicine is practiced in Europe. Siek said she learned about the program through Auburn’s study abroad website.
“It was listed on the suggested external opportunities page, and it immediately caught my attention,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, and the fact that I could shadow at a hospital there seemed like an amazing opportunity. It was exactly the kind of program that I was looking for.”
In Bouchillon’s case, the Doctors in Italy program was a way for her to step out of her comfort zone and branch out her experiences into the world. “I knew it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “Italy has such a different approach on medicine, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
During her time in Rome, Bouchillon had the opportunity to shadow a doctor in a different specialty each day. She said she met with residents, doctors, nurses and directors at San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital.
She observed endocrinology geriatric medicine, an emergency room, oncology, blood transfusions and analysis, radiology, hematology, oncology, telemedicine and cardiology. She also experienced an intensive care unit, operating rooms, labor and delivery unit and much more.
“I hope to take certain aspects of what I learned in Italy to what I practice here,” Bouchillon said. “One of the many areas of growth I had on this trip is my perspective on individuals battling cancer. Their focus on taking care of the person as a whole, physically and mentally, was eye-opening.
“I remember the director of mammography saying that he was not only committed to curing people, but also crafting a brighter future for them. To him, this included making sure their mental status was intact, nurturing their sense of self-worth and instilling the belief in post-cancer life’s possibilities. This encounter gave me a drive in my determination as I concluded my studies and allowed me to embrace more of the beauty in life itself.”
Siek said she learned similar lessons, most notably to be compassionate toward patients. She served in a two-week program in Bologna at the prestigious Policlinicon Sant’Orsola, a hospital ranked on Newsweek’s “World’s Best Hospitals” list. There, she shadowed in the cardiology and ENT departments.
“One medical student told me something along the lines of that Italians focus more on treating the person rather than the condition, and I found that he was right,” she said.
Siek remembers that, on one day while doctors were making their morning rounds and discussing treatments for patients, she observed as a doctor held a patient’s hand the entire time the patient talked to her nurse.
“It was a small gesture, but it showed that the doctor saw the patient as a human being and was trying to offer her comfort,” Siek said. She also observed the nurses, who would touch elderly patients’ hair in a comforting manner.
“It showed me that being a good doctor is about serving the people around you and that medicine should be more than a business transaction,” Siek said. “I’ll definitely carry that lesson with me as I continue my studies and work at Auburn.”
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