CBS Senior Gains Cross-Cultural Experience Shadowing Doctors in Italy
College seniors don’t get assigned “what I did last summer” essays for homework, but if they did, Amrit Bains’s summer would have the whole class envious. Bains—a pre-med biological sciences major who is a member of the Phi Sigma Honor Society—traveled to Milan with a program called Doctors in Italy, which lets undergraduates shadow physicians abroad.
It’s not every day that UC Davis students get to witness live C-sections and orthopedic surgeries—and then follow up such experiences with an historic walking tour of Milan or a group dinner of Milanese cuisine. Bains, however, was able to do just this. With support from the Alys Hay Travel Award—an endowment that funds travel-based learning for students in the College of Biological Sciences, particularly first-generation students—and with a diversity award from the Doctors in Italy program, Bains was able to travel abroad and gain insights into her planned future career as a physician.
Hands-On Experience: A Key UC Davis Value
Bains says her educational experiences in the College of Biological Sciences uniquely prepared her to take full advantage of the Doctors in Italy program. “UC Davis is a huge advocate for getting in-the-field experience,” says Bains. “I love that I’ve been able to do hands-on work in the field, not just in a classroom—what I was able to learn by following what a physician does all day was unparalleled.” Bains was especially pleased to have shadowing opportunities in the Italian hospital’s neonatal unit and operating room, as she is interested in pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology as potential specialties.
Bains originally heard about the Doctors in Italy program from a friend in her hometown, the small Northern California community of Yuba City. She jumped at the chance to understand medicine in a different cultural context: “The educators at UC Davis are huge advocates for cultural competency,” she says.
Her personal background has shown her the value of cross-cultural understanding in medicine up close: “I’m passionate about it because of where I come from,” says Bains. “I’m Punjabi, and in Yuba City there’s a huge Indian population and a huge medically underserved community. With my own grandparents, I’ve observed the effects of being an immigrant who doesn’t speak English very well. It’s a big part of why I want to go to medical school.”
Adapting to the Italian context was exciting but not always easy, Bains says. “It was a little difficult because the doctors and nurses were speaking in their native language and were speaking very quickly,” she says. “Of course, they were doing their job and not thinking of me! But by the end of the program I was getting better at figuring out what was happening and picking up on certain phrases and words.”
Lisa Ferraro, the country operations manager for Doctors in Italy fellowships, says this kind of cultural exchange and learning is exactly what the program is meant to foster, and that Bains rose to the challenge: “Choosing to pursue a shadowing opportunity in a foreign country with a different culture and language is a testament to one’s bravery. We deeply admire Amrit's unwavering commitment to personal growth as she ventured beyond her comfort zone, embracing international education,” she says. “In addition to acquiring valuable insights into various facets of health care, her distinct perspective enriched the program’s educational environment.”
The Alys Hay Travel Award is meant to fund just such opportunities for cultural exchange, and Alys Hay applauds Bains’s experience. “Bains is exactly the kind of student that the travel award is intended to encourage,” says Hay. “The award allowed Bains to be exposed to learning experiences outside of UC Davis, to receive a practical, hands-on perspective of her intended field, and to supplement the outstanding education received at UC Davis. It is clear that Bains achieved all of that and more. Well done!”
Going Above and Beyond
Bains has also had the chance to get hands-on experience in medicine closer to home. She has volunteered with the student-run Shifa Community Clinic in Sacramento, which serves a Middle Eastern and Indian population. She has also participated in the UC Davis Markers of Autism Risk in Babies—Learning Early Signs (MARBLES) research study in the School of Medicine. “One thing that stood out to me when working with Amrit was her willingness to go above and beyond,” says Maressa Rodriguez, assistant clinical research coordinator for the study and Bains’s supervisor. “She exhibited excellent communications skills when interacting with new participants concerning health issues and accommodating for their unique circumstances.”
As Bains’s summer in Milan shows, her UC Davis education has prepared her to go beyond borders in pursuit of experience. The effect of shadowing in Italy has lasted, Bains says. She developed and has maintained a close bond with her fellow students abroad and hopes this will be just the beginning: “I really do hope that I can do something similar and work again in an international community,” says Bains. “It can be scary going to a whole different country and not knowing anyone, but it was really empowering. I’m a huge proponent of women being in science and able to take risks, especially women of color.”
Now back at UC Davis for her senior year, Bains is looking ahead to her future—but is mindful of her transformative, unforgettable experience in Italy: “Being able to say I worked in this community and traveled to Italy will make me a better applicant, a better physician in the future, and just a better person.”
- Kate Washington, Ph.D., is a freelance writer based in Sacramento and the author of Already Toast: Caregiving and Burnout in America. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, TIME and Sunset, among other publications.
- Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program