Hi, guys. I have been a MedStudentz member for some months, after I was asked by Rehan to join this forum to share my experience as a foreign medical student in the US, but I never posted before.
So, since I just graduated #cool and still have got some free time after my vacations, I decided to tell you my story...
I graduated at University of Padua Medical School, Italy, which - people here say - is one of the best in my country... In reality, I don't think my med school is that cool, because it basically lacks of pratical, hands-on, clinical (call it as you like) experience (but this is mostly a problem of Italian medical learning system). However, the theoretical bases of students there are quite solid.
When I was attending my fourth year (here in Europe all med schools offer 6-year programs) I felt the need of an international experience, and so I applied for a spot within the Erasmus program (an EU program that promotes students mobility: you basically spend one year in a university in another country and get the exams you do there convalidated). Therefore, I spent my fifth year at UAB in Barcelona and learnt a different way of doing - and especially teaching - medicine: more pratical, more clinical-oriented, maybe more efficient and surely more laid-back.
During my period there I also applied for a brand-new grant offered by my home university together with Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA, and won the selection. So, during the summer of 2005, I spent six weeks on a clinical elective at Massachusetts General Hospital, within the Department of Medicine. As I had been told, I was the first Italian med student within that institution, so everybody was so curious about me and my skills and there was not such a clear role for me there. Anyhow, I attended a general internal medicine ward for four weeks, and then I had two elective weeks.
My experience in internal medicine has been awesome, I really improved a lot, both under the clinical-practical and theoretical point of view. I used to attend the wards from 7 am to at least 7 pm, following the team (1 chief resident, 1 junior resident, 4 interns and another med student) during its daily duty. I was asked to present patients and medical topics to the team. In the end, I asked and received three LORs: one from my mentor (a PI), one from the chief resident and one from the junior.
As for my two elective weeks, I spent one in GI and one in ID, but the experience there was not as excepcional as during the first four weeks, for various reason: GI and ID folks were not prepared to have me there and put me in their weekly schedule, I had a lot of spare time, and I was confused by the fact that - since both GI and ID are consult services - I had to continuously follow the fellow from one ward to another, from one patient to another, without knowing almost anything about the patients (becase they were not *my* patients, as in the general internal medicine ward).
However, my first experience at the MGH in Boston was very positive. During my lasts days there I managed to get in touch with the coordinator of the sub-internship (sub-I) in internal medicine and I asked useful information to get a spot within that frame.
Time passed by and I did all the paperwork in order to eventually get my sub-I spot at the MGH, despite all the competition from both US and foreign medical students. I think that one of the key factors that helped me in getting my sub-I was the fact that the coordinator knew me personally and read the LORs I got from his colleagues. So, I got my sub-I scheduled in March 2006.
I arrived in Boston, under the snow, some days before the beginning of my elective. I settled down, did all the bureacratic stuff and got ready to start...
My second experience at MGH was incredible: I had the very same duties as an Harvard Medical student and - in the context of a sub-I - this meant to have the very same duty of an intern in internal medicine... So I worked 26 days a month from 7 am to 7-10 pm, being on call every fourth night and on short call every fourth night as well (this meant to be generically on call every other day). The stress for HMS student was high... imagine for me, an international medical student! Different language, teaching system, medical background, culture, working and eating habits (yes, eating habits: Americal food is one of the greatest enemy for European people... it's very tough for us to eat that crap!!)... And, apart from that, I was responsible for the lives of 4-6 patients every day, thing that I was absolutely not used to, because in Italy med student have way less critical tasks, since they have no malpratice insurance).
During my month in Boston, I also got another LOR (from my senior resident) and got in touch with an Italian PI in the Cardiovascular Research Center of the MGH-HMS, who proposed a position as a PhD (a joined PhD program between my home university and HMS) to me, once become an MD. And, after doing some years of research there, entering a residency at MGH would have become not just a dream, but a real possibility, certainly...
My sub-I at the MGH-HMS was very important for me: it made me understand a lot of thing about me and what I wanted from the future and from my career. I evaluate the clinical and human experience in the MGH as 10/10, but - as for the rest of my experience there (life, free time, food, the city and the nearby areas, etc) - the overall impression was negative. People and their mentality there is very different from European ones, in many ways: Americans seem more open and more sociable, but in the end this is just appearance, and to really get in touch with them it's way harder than normal; during weekdays, people there are not eager to go out at night, have social life, and party; Americans are not so bound as Europeans to the territory where they were born and to their family and friends. Food was really a problem: transgenic vegetables, fatty foods, and disgusting meals are the normality. Alternatives were Indian, Chinese and Mexican food, which are very far from the standard European and especially Mediterranean food culture which we are used to here.
Boston - which, as Americans say, is one of the youngest, lively and social city in the US - is, for European parameters, very somnolent, with only few cultural opportunities besides academic stuff, most of the bars and shops close in the late afternoon and *everything* closes before 2 AM, even during the weekends...
Maybe in the US, namely at Harvard Medical School, you might become the best physician or the most famous researcher in the world. But, other than that, *life* in the USA is way less fulfilling and satisfying than in Europe.
That's why I won't go on with my lifelong and childish American Medical Dream, even if I had concrete possibilities of starting to realize it.
Because, guys, life is not only medicine.