Pre-health & Studying Abroad: Impossible or not?

Erin Kistler
Location: Toledo, Spain

Erin’s story: This past semester, I studied abroad in Toledo, Spain and among the many incredible experiences, one of the most special was my internship at the Association for Multiple Sclerosis (ADEMTO). Not only were my Spanish skills truly put to the test, I also had great experiences with patients and learned about interdisciplinary approaches to treating neurological disorders. At my internship, I rotated through the various departments with the opportunity to shadow and assist the physical therapists, occupational therapist, speech therapist, psychologist, and the social worker. This gave me the opportunity to see all aspects of patient care and see how many individuals integrated some or all of these departments as a part of their treatment. Additionally, I learned more about the healthcare system in Spain and was able to draw comparisons with our healthcare system. My favorite moments were when I got to connect with patients and learn their stories. Some loved to give me a detailed rundown of their medical history and their individual treatment at ADEMTO while others would share stories about their kids or their love for their hometown of Toledo. Often, patients would try to impress me with an English phrase or two which always brought a smile to my face. While I was nervous about having an internship in a foreign country with a different language, I am super glad I made that decision because I got to learn a lot about an interdisciplinary approach to rehabilitation of neurological disorders in addition to having great interactions with patients.

Fernanda’s story: Studying abroad has always been a big dream of mine, but when others told me that students on a pre-health track aren’t usually able to study abroad, I got a little discouraged. I decided that I would still try to make it work anyways. Usually, people think a semester abroad for a pre-health student is a semester wasted. One where you don’t really learn much academically or professionally, it is a semester where you just travel, but not for me.

 I studied at DIS Copenhagen in the Medical Practice and Policy program, and although I did manage to travel a lot while there, I also learned a lot, not only academically but about who I am and what I want to do after I graduate. 

Classes I took while abroad:

  • Human Health and Disease (my core course): our professor was a Danish medical doctor, and all the students in my class were also pre-health just like me. We learned about different diseases and treatment methods, learned about the Danish healthcare system, and then traveled to Berlin to learn about the German healthcare system too. We also went to the hospitals where we would learn some medical skills like suturing, inserting a catheter, how to start an IV, and different emergency protocols. 
  • Biology of Marine Mammals: which I was able to get a biology diversity credit out of it (any bio majors out there will understand). 
  • Heath Beyond Borders; a global health class 
  • A travel writing class

The classes I had, the people I met, the activities and field trips I got to go on, and the traveling I was able to do, all have changed my life in some ways (I know, I know, sounds cliché, “abroad changed me” but it’s true). I’ve learned to be a more independent person, I’ve become more culturally aware and educated, and I had some confirmations as well as made some new discoveries about my future profession. So the point of the story is: if you have a desire to go abroad, don’t be discouraged if you are on a pre-health track. Prepare for it early on and you can make it happen! 

Fernanda Aiala
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

By Erin Kistler
Erin Kistler Peer Career Fellow: Healthcare and Clinical Research