My second week as an Atlantis Fellow, I found myself in the operating room watching a surgeon pull a tumor from the base of a man’s brain out through his nose. Now, I get that not everyone thinks this is cool; most people probably find this disgusting, including my parents who gave me a very pained “That’s great baby” after I excitedly told them what I had seen that day. But, I, as a pre-med student, had found it absolutely fascinating. After all, that is why I was spending my month of June in Lisbon, Portugal at Hospital de Egas Moniz.
I applied for a program called the Atlantis Project the summer of 2017. The Atlantis Project was a program I had stumbled across my senior year of high school and had continued to research as I entered college. The point of the program is to allow pre-med students shadowing opportunities in other countries to be exposed to different cultures and the different health care systems around the world. My end goal was to just be selected for an interview; I had seen the students they promoted on their website, and I wasn’t sure I measured up. When I got the call that I had would be a fellow the following summer, there was a lot of happy dancing.
I was a fellow among eighteen other students coming from all across the U.S. We were all college students with a passion for medicine and people, but that was where our similarities stopped. The group quickly meshed and became friends, as we would be spending a lot of time together. While in Lisbon our weeks consisted of shadowing at the hospital and exploring other parts of Portugal.
My first week, we received a tour of Lisbon, as it would be our home for the next three weeks. For my shadowing, I began in the field of neurology. In my few days there, I mainly shadowed three doctors: Dr. Marcelo Mendonça, Dr. Manuel Salavisa Teixeira, and Dr. João Pedro Marto. They were all kind and eager for us to learn from them. Dr. Manuel Teixeira was one of my favorites, as he was very funny. Upon meeting me and asking my name, he responded with “Lauren…that sounds like an Arkansas name.” I asked him if he had been talking to other doctors because I was in fact from Arkansas; he gave me a high five and said, “No, I just watch a lot of TV.” After our week of shadowing, we took a trip to Sintra, Portugal. This beautiful city is home to old palaces and castles, and it was a sight to see.
My second week, I shadowed in the field of neurosurgery, where I shadowed several different surgeons. The first day, I felt very #official changing into my scrubs, surgical mask, and scrub cap. The surgeons were just as welcoming and friendly as the doctors I had met the previous week. While performing surgery, they would call us over to look at the specific anatomy and what they were doing. Most of the surgeries lasted hours, and my respect for surgeons’ abilities to stand for hours without breaks grew immensely. One surgeon, towards the end of my and another fellow’s neurosurgery rotation, found us still standing against the wall eagerly watching after an almost seven hour surgery. His response was, “You two are still here? I’m about to close up, this is boring part. You are two college girls in Europe, go surfing, go explore, just go have fun.” Funnily enough, later that week we did go to the beach, where I learned to surf, not well, but I did stand up for maybe two seconds.
My third week, I shadowed Dr. João Teles Sousa in dermatology. I sat in on all of his patient visits and talked with him about my future plans. He was an older man, but he was very kind and curious about life in America. He would always speak to his patients and make sure to translate to English for me. I saw many different dermatological cases, and even though it is a field of medicine I never expressed interest in, I came out feeling like I had learned a lot.
I know I am very blessed to have had this opportunity, and even though I was riddled with nerves in the beginning, I am thankful everyday that I went. I saw castles, saw surgeries, saw the western most point of continental Europe, learned to surf, made friends who I still talk to, and had the experience of a lifetime. I’m incredibly grateful that somehow I, at seventeen, came across the Atlantis Project.