Scarlett Morales Pon
August, 8th 2023
By Ethan Steinquest
Two Austin Peay State University (APSU) students spent their summer breaking down boundaries and embracing global learning through the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program, which was created to allow future healthcare leaders to study internationally.
Shelby Batson, who graduated from APSU in May with a degree in biochemistry, and Scarlett Morales Pon, a freshman medical lab science major, were able to shadow medical professionals in top-ranked Italian hospitals and immerse themselves in the local culture after being selected for the program.
Morales Pon’s two-week June fellowship took her to the historic city of Bologna in northern Italy, where she worked with doctors specializing in cardiovascular internal medicine at Policlinico Di Sant’Orsola Malphigi. She said the shadowing hours were essential in preparing for her post-graduate career.
“It’s definitely going to help me with the pre-physician’s assistant program that I’m going to apply for after graduating, and it’s also made me want to be more deeply involved with my career,” Morales Pon said. “The program helped me understand things I’d forgotten, and I’d like to go back to Italy and do more shadowing.”
Batson and Morales Pon learned about the fellowship opportunity through emails from their professors. However, they had to go through Doctors in Italy’s application process before making the trip. After submitting their GPAs, outlining their career goals and making solid impressions during Zoom interviews, the two were selected to participate in the program over the summer.
“I was excited because one of the things I’ve always wanted to do was go to Italy, so doing my shadowing hours there was pretty much perfect for me,” Morales Pon said. “I was looking up information about the hospital [I went to], and their page said it was one of the most important in Italy with excellent programs and medical schooling.”
Morales Pon aims to become a physician’s assistant and transferred to APSU last semester after moving to Memphis from Honduras. She previously studied for four years at a dental school in her home country and wanted to continue her education in the medical field.
Scarlett completed the Pre-Health Program
- 20+ clinical shadowing hours per week
- Discover 4+ different specialties
- See how healthcare is practiced IRL
- 24-hour on-site support
Morales Pon’s time in Bologna was more specifically focused on cardiovascular internal medicine, and she experienced everything from day-to-day interactions with patients to emergency operations. “The first week was about building a connection with the patients, talking to them and learning what was going on,” she said. “We pretty much followed the doctors and some of their medical students while they did everyday checkups of patients.”
After that, the students spent two days shadowing doctors in the emergency room and three days learning from surgical professionals. Morales Pon said she especially appreciated being able to stand near the operating table.
“Normally, when you’re shadowing, the doctors want you to be a bit further away so they can do their work,” she said. “But since I had the primary doctor showing me, they let me be close to the patient to see what was happening. They asked me about nerves and arteries and questioned me to help me understand the body’s anatomy and what was happening.”
Morales Pon said that experience was more valuable than time in the classroom because the procedures were happening right in front of her. “In the surgical unit, I learned many simple things,” she said. “But when you take anatomy or see these things in a textbook, it’s not the same as when you’re looking at a real live person … [and] we’d see what was happening with lots of different patients, from kids to older people.”
The trip also allowed Morales Pon to explore the differences between healthcare systems and cultures in the U.S. and Italy. “In Italy, there’s more connection between the patient and the doctor,” she said. “[I saw] more talking, care and understanding … Italians are very open and charismatic, and they’re not afraid to be close to one another.”
Learning more about Italian culture was a significant aspect of the fellowship, both inside and outside the hospital. Batson and Morales Pon were given the weekends to explore the country with their fellow students.
The students also enjoyed authentic Italian cuisine after their shifts at the hospital, learned parts of the language from translators during their shadowing hours and visited many other historic locations.
“I went to Rome and Venice on the weekend, which was very interesting,” Morales Pon said. “Between the week, we went to the historical parts of Bologna, including the oldest university in Europe. It had an anatomy table with chairs all around the room facing directly toward it, and it was from medieval times.”
Batson and Morales Pon said APSU helped set them up for success by connecting them with the fellowship opportunity and that the University has helped them throughout their time as Govs.
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In the spotlight
Get to know the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Alumni