“It made me realize the importance of getting the bigger picture.” –Avani Khaparde
(Future) Doctors in Italy
When Avani Khaparde got news of her acceptance into the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program, she signed up for Duolingo. A few 20-minute sessions later and she could easily order a caffé, but she discovered that it was compassion that spoke louder.
Khaparde, a junior majoring in health administration and policy, spent just two weeks in Italy for her summer study abroad experience, but it packed a punch. The Santa Clara, California, native joined other American and international college students for placements in hospitals throughout Italy to shadow healthcare professionals, interact with patients and be immersed in the Italian culture.
Posted at the Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, a renowned research and teaching hospital in Rome, Khaparde shares some key moments from her time there.
What are the highlights from your time in the hospital?
There are a couple. We didn’t speak Italian, but I don’t think you always need to have that direct language to connect with someone. There was one gentleman who was getting treated for pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his kidneys and liver. He was just so polite and very excited to see students coming to see him and talk to him even though he was a terminal patient.
Another patient, who had Parkinson’s and was suffering from a staph infection, was an American who the police had found busking outside of St. Peter’s Basilica. He had a breathing tube so he couldn’t talk, but we were able to talk to him. And I think that was really nice because we could kind of see recognition on his face, like he was hearing things that were familiar to him.
And I was impressed with their breast cancer care clinic; it was so filled with positivity. The doctors were focused on making these women feel empowered in themselves and very beautiful. One of the doctors said like, ‘it doesn’t matter here how rich or poor you are, we’re going to fix you up the same.’ And I just really appreciated hearing that.
How did the experience impact you?
It definitely made me realize the importance of a holistic hospital experience; it’s not just medicine, it’s about how the care is delivered and how care is given. It made me want to not just pursue an MD degree, but also pursue a master’s in public health because health is so much more than just one patient, and it made me realize the importance of getting the bigger picture.
Do you see yourself working in another country someday?
I would love to work abroad or even volunteer abroad for something like Doctors Without Borders. It opens your eyes a little bit to the different ways people live and different way that things are run. One thing that I really loved about Italy is just how compassionate and affectionate everyone was.
A lot of the doctors liked to talk with us not purely about the medical stuff, but it seemed like they were genuinely interested in having us there and seeing what we were learning and what we wanted to do in the future. A lot of them were like, ‘no, you should come back to Italy and be doctors here.’