Rahul Atodaria: Learning Outside of the Textbook

Students in the University Honors Program are encouraged to pursue enriching experiences outside of the classroom such as internships and study abroad. When these are not offered for course credit, Honors Students may apply for an Honors Experience point to demonstrate how this more complex and/or challenging activity should count toward Honors Fellows distinction requirements. In the post below, junior biomedical sciences major Rahul Atodaria ’20 from Bay City, TX, describes what he learned in his experience in a summer medical fellowship.

– by  Rahul Atodaria

During this past month, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in an international medical fellowship with the Atlantis Project.  During the program, I shadowed physicians in a hospital located in Quito, Ecuador for two weeks.  Then, I volunteered at an independently-run disability clinic also in Quito for the same amount of time.  Overall, the Atlantis fellowship allowed me to continue the type of service work I already perform in the States.  The difference, however, was that, by working in Ecuador, I had to come out of my comfort zone to learn about a different approach to medicine and a culture that was entirely new to me.  Being out of my comfort zone provided challenges for sure but also set up an environment in which I could better learn about medicine, culture, and myself.

A major challenge for me early in the program was the language barrier.  Most of the physicians and staff around me exclusively spoke Spanish, a language I am not fluent in but had been practicing before arriving in Quito.  At first, this barrier was discouraging, but I still tried to communicate entirely in Spanish.  Ultimately, near the end of the program, I was still struggling, but my understanding of Spanish and my confidence to converse in it had considerably improved.  As an aspiring physician from Texas, this language experience showed me the importance of taking the time to learn a new language so that I may better understand and help the Hispanic population in the U.S. or even in Spanish-speaking countries should my medical career become international.

Rahul Atodaria ’20 (second from left) with the 2018 Atlantis Fellows before their first day in the hospital

By itself, learning in a classroom about a style of medicine that differs from American medicine is not really impactful in my opinion.  However, the Atlantis fellowship provided the unique opportunity to step into the local practice of medicine.  Although I was not permitted to treat patients, I talked with hospital staff about what medicine is like in Ecuador for physicians, aspiring medical students, and patients.  After completing my work at the hospital, I applied their teachings during my time at the disability clinic.  The impact of this was that connecting with patients and therapists at the clinic became much easier and more meaningful than it had been with patients at the hospital since I better understood what patients expected from their local physicians as well as the general interaction between patient and physician.  In other words, conversations with the clinic staff and patients about their interactions in medicine came more effortlessly than it had during my hospital hours.  In addition, the fact that the FIFA World Cup was going on during this time made starting conversations easy as pie and enjoyable for everyone.

Outside of my working hours during the fellowship, I really enjoyed travelling to different regions outside of Quito as well as to the Galapagos Islands.  This international adventuring marked my first experiences with kayaking, ziplining, and rafting through rapid waters.  Also, I had lots of fun exploring local restaurants with my friends and trying both Ecuadorian specialties as well as Tex-Mex food in Quito (which was nowhere near as good as real South Texas Tex-Mex).  And speaking of local food, what I really miss from Quito are the $3 lunch deals that included about $15 – $20 worth of food.

In the end, I understand that, in terms of the actual work performed, the hospital shadowing and volunteer work that I conducted in Ecuador was nothing different from what I do in the States already.  However, when considering the unique culture of Ecuador and the medical training of Ecuadorian physicians in addition to the universal healthcare observed in Ecuador, everything was different.  At the very least, I was part of a program that enabled me to learn about and experience medicine in ways that I had only otherwise read about in textbooks.

For more information about Honors Experience Points, please visit http://tx.ag/HonorsXP.

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