Medical School: My International Clinical Experience

30 June 2013

Hey everyone!

I thought I'd share my memories and experiences from my time in Portugal last month - I spent 70+ hours shadowing in a private hospital in northern Portugal, over a span of 3 weeks. It was glorious, and amazing, and once again had me pondering what I want to do with my life. Even though we're in medical school, we still have to narrow down our love of science to one specialty (out of hundreds). It is tough! And then you can SUB-SPECIALIZE! Double tough! Regardless, I had a great time and I really encourage everyone interested in medicine, or already a medical student, to sign-up for a trip. Now let's jump in!

My days typically started at 9am, unless I had a half-day scheduled, and ended at 6:30/7:30pm. It was pretty long, and quite draining by the time evening rolled around, but so worth it. Everyday I would shadow 2-3 specialists, one in the morning & a different one in the afternoon. The hospital director had me join the physicians with previous teaching experience: they included medical school professors, and top specialty doctors in the country. I learned so much, and was so grateful that I had the chance to learn from these brilliant minds. Most of them travel all over the USA and Europe for conferences, so I'm hoping to see them one day in good ol' Chicago.

Typical hospital outfit (L) and my handy moleskine for note-taking (R).
A great asset to have on international clinical trips is language skills. I really believe that the only reason I absorbed immense amounts of valuable information was because I was fluent in Portuguese. If I hadn't been, then it would be very difficult to keep up with the doctor's diagnosis and prescriptions. Hence, if you know you want to go to visit Portugal/Spain/China/India/El Salvador etc, months in advance, I'd recommend you begin learning the language early. There are some great apps to download, and online resources that are free.

At the hospital, I was able to shadow in the following areas: Cardiology, Pediatric Cardiology, Pulmonology, General Pediatrics, OBY/GYN surgery (hysterectomies & C-sections), OBY/GYN consults, Otarolyngology/ENT, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology (tons of colonoscopies and endoscopies), General Surgery (laproscopic appendectomy & thyroidectomy), and Anesthesiology. I thought they were all fascinating, and each had its own quirk that made it intriguing. But let me tell you, after 3 weeks of being there I'm certain I have NO IDEA what I want to do -everything was so awesome. However, I can say with great certainty that medicine is definitely my calling. Amen!

Culture-wise, European hospitals were a refreshing experience. The doctors ALL DRESSED WELL, something I rarely see in North America, because if doctors do put an effort into being fashionable/looking good they're shammed as "vain". Very sad. I always grew up with the notion that looking good on the outside shows you take pride in yourself, and it also makes you feel darn confident! Ah well, c'est la vie. In addition there was one more point I'd like to bring up: Portugal is tackling obesity head on, like an angry bull. The "get moving" commercials were everywhere, the doctors would always take their time explaining what medical implications extra fat had on a patient's heart and other organ systems, and healthcare professionals + the hospital practiced what they preached. The cafeteria was free for staff, and it allowed you to pick from 5 meal choices, which you'd choose the day before, and would be ready for lunch/dinner the following day. Even better news, they were all amazingly healthy Portuguese food! Lots of fish, greens, beans, etc - everything was freshly cooked, no processed or preservative-filled food was offered. And it didn't matter because your lunch was darn delicious! I always felt so satisfied and full of energy even after several hours post-mealtime. I really can't stress how important it is to suck it up and eat healthy (which means cooking your own food or finding a reliable resto). You're less drained, have less bad chemicals floating through your system, and your body loves it. Falling off a carb-high is not conducive to good studying, or worse, good medical practice! I really wish more hospitals were like this, I was left with such a great impression!
My super tired face post-surgery - I was standing for 7 hours. Nuts! 
I have so much more to say about my experience in Portugal, but I would be here all day. These physicians really loved their jobs, and loved teaching!

I hope your summer is going swell on the other side of the screen. If you have any more questions feel free to shoot me an e-mail, or comment.



  1. Interesting! In the UK doctors are also expected to dress to a certain standard- my boss (a nephrologist) would never come to wards/clinics in anything less than a suit, dress shirt and tie. Similarly when recruiting patients for my study or seeing patients in clinic I always dress smartly. It isn't being vain, just demonstrating a certain degree of respect for your job and the patients.

  2. you look so adorable in your scrubs! that's such a cool experience, to be able to do part of your training abroad like that, although your days sound long and intense!

  3. Wow...what an experience. I can't even imagine something like this, especially with those crazy day! Props to you on that one :)

  4. LOVE your blog, you are so pretty! :) I am loving the hospital outfits.
    I'm your newest follower, on both GFC (in case it doesnt die) and bloglovin!

  5. that sounds like such a great experience! i feel like this is something all doctor's should do at some point during their education. i'm sure you will do great things, no matter what type of medicine you decide to practice. :)

  6. This was such an interesting post to read! How is it possible for you to look so chic whilst working in a hospital?! :) Seriously loving your blog, so glad to have come across it!

  7. This is such a fab post... sounds like it was such an interesting learning experience. And I LOVE the post surgery selfie haha! x E

  8. This is so interesting! What an amazing opportunity and it looks like you had a great time. I know what you mean about not knowing what to specialize in-- I'm not going into medicine but I can't seem to decide what I want to do after university!

  9. I was so happy to find how that you went on an intership in my country :) in wich city were you? I'm happy that you liked the experience :) us portuguese are very kind to outsiders and love to have visitors! :)



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