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.
“I feel like I have a better understanding of what it means to be a doctor,” Batson said. “We saw a lot of amazing, wonderful things, but we also saw a lot of tough days for people … that’s very challenging, but I think it’s important to see that part of medicine and know what you’re getting into.”
Batson traveled to Rome for two weeks in May and spent each day learning the ins and outs of a new medical specialty. She received a comprehensive look at San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital’s operations, from cardiology and internal medicine to OB-GYN and neonatal care.
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.
Batson plans to apply for medical school after gaining clinical experience in the Clarksville area to work in dermatology or neonatal intensive care. She knew the fellowship would help her reach those goals, but she initially worried about being accepted.
“I didn’t feel like I had a chance to get it,” she said. “I had looked at their Instagram page and saw there was a student from Yale who went. I didn’t know what I was getting into, and I didn’t know the odds of getting in, but I was so excited … I felt like it would make me more prepared to serve people here by learning about other cultures.”
To prepare for her interview, Batson extensively researched the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program and answered practice questions over the phone. Her efforts paid off, and soon she was on her way overseas.
Batson quickly connected with her fellow students when they arrived in Italy, and they spent four days a week shadowing medical professionals. She said having a group to share the experience with made it even more valuable.
“We all kept journals and wrote down things about the patients so we could remember them and think of them later,” she said. “We’d sit down as a group, review our notes and discuss each patient. I think that’s where I got the most value because when you’re in the hospital, you’re jotting everything down and trying to absorb it all.”
Spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) particularly impacted Batson, and she said it made her consider going into that field herself.
“Each doctor would have four or five babies they were taking care of, and as soon as I walked in, the doctor could tell me all the information on their charts without even opening them,” she said. “He was so good with the mothers, and I think it comforted them … a few of the babies were discharged while I was there, which was sweet. I didn’t think I’d ever be interested in something like that, but I appreciated it.”
Batson was also impressed with the hospital’s breast cancer unit, which provided free cosmetic surgery, wigs and makeup workshops to boost women’s self-esteem as they went through chemotherapy.
“In the NICU and oncology offices, they’d have pictures to comfort patients,” she said. “There were photos of premature babies next to ones the mother had sent in of them at 3 years old playing, and pictures of women in chemo alongside a picture of them two years later happy and healthy. I appreciated how encouraging all the doctors were.”
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.
“I’ve never been across the country, so it was really exciting,” Batson said. “One weekend, five of us went to Sorrento and Pompeii. We planned a trip to visit Pompeii for the day, then took a train to Sorrento and stayed the night there.”
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.
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