“I’ll never be able to study abroad” is a thought that most pre-health students fixate on. But, my friends, it is indeed possible to not only go abroad as a pre-health student, but to intern abroad at a hospital! For three months, I was an intern at Clínica Santa Isabel in Seville, Spain, where I explored different areas like the emergency room and the laboratory, as well as shadowed different specialties such as internal medicine and pediatrics. The experience was an incredible opportunity to gain shadowing hours, which I couldn’t have experienced in The United States. Additionally, I improved my Spanish by talking to patients, nurses, and doctors. Being surrounded by Spanish increased my confidence in my speaking skills.
Walking through the laboratory, I observed the sign stating when extracciones (blood drawing) and curas (wound care/injections) would occur. After two days of observing the nurses, they asked if I wanted to help with their work. By the end of my semester abroad, I had aided in countless extracciones, helped assist with wound cleaning, and performed injections. Not only did I gain experience, I gained forever friends with the nurses and other clinic personnel. We had frequent intercambios (exchanges) where they would teach me Spanish, whether medical terms or other vocabulary words, and I would do the same for them in English. I kept tabs of these vocab words in a little notebook that I had on me at all times. That way, my newfound knowledge wasn’t an “in one ear, out the other” experience. With the laboratory under my belt, I wanted to see a little more of what goes on in the clinic.
That’s when I asked my supervisor if I could go to the surgery wing and try to shadow surgeons. I was given a mask, hair net, and foot slips and was led into the OR where plastic surgery was occurring. I observed the surgery from the corner of the room, trying not to be in the way, but afterwards I was pleasantly surprised when the surgical nurse asked the surgeon if I could scrub in with them for the next surgery in order to observe more closely. The nurse then took the time to show me how to properly wash and “scrub” my hands and how to properly prepare for surgery. I walked into the sterile OR with my gown, gloves, and hair net with a ready-to-learn attitude. The surgeon took the time to explain to me the different layers skin and muscle as he was in the process of the procedure. Minutes into the surgery, I noticed a song was playing in the background from a computer and suddenly I realized the song that’s on: "How to Save a Life" by The Fray, otherwise known as the Grey’s Anatomy Song. I truly was living a Meredith Grey dream -- one that I thought would never occur, especially when I haven’t even gone through PA school. Yet, that wasn’t the end of the dream. While closing up, the surgeon asked if I wanted to help with the stitches and the bandages. Even though I was wearing a mask, my squinty eyes were a tell-tale sign of my huge smile that I was doing something that I loved.
Although these incredible experiences seem perfect, there were also some difficulties. Bear in mind that this internship was all in Spanish and my medical Spanish, let alone my Spanish, isn’t exactly fluent. During my first day, I was completely shocked at how lost I felt. I was so out of place and didn’t know if I was going to get anything out of the internship. That’s when I decided that I was going to try to talk to as many people as possible and hopefully learn more along the way. I was met with a couple bumps in the road when I tried to converse with patients. A great deal of the time, patients were confused as to how I didn’t know a lot of Spanish and some even laughed at my attempts. Although my ego sometimes took a hit, my attempts allowed me to talk to patients and hear their stories, which was something I would’ve never done if I didn’t try to go out of my comfort zone.
I was able to shadow more doctors this way and discover that my favorite specialty is pediatrics. I sometimes translated for other students abroad and was able to be a familiar English-speaking face to them. I also made so many friends and felt as if I belonged in the clinic with my nurse friends. I truly had a Spanish experience all because of my internship, and I’m still processing all of the skills and amazing opportunities this internship created.
EDITOR'S NOTE: CEA's internship placements are individualized, and when placing students in an internship abroad, our team takes care to align each internship in accordance to the student's experience, area of interest, language fluency and other readiness factors.
Kaylee Phillips is the Fall 2019 Alumni Ambassador in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at University of South Carolina Columbia.