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Spotlight on Our Students: Shadowing Surgeons in Portugal

Tori Whichard poses in scrubs and a face mask

In this edition of Spotlight on our Students, we talked long distance with Tori Whichard about her time shadowing surgeons across Portugal this summer.

Tori is a rising second-year University Honors student from Raleigh, North Carolina, majoring in Human Biology. Read on to learn more about her time behind the scalpel with surgeons in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal.

UHP: Tori – so great to catch up with you. Portugal is one of my favorite places to visit, and it sounds like you’re doing some really interesting work there. First of all, tell us about the Atlantis project and how you got involved.

TW: Atlantis is a program that allows students in college to go abroad and shadow doctors in hospitals. They have locations all around Europe and each trip lasts between 3-6 weeks. I first found out about Atlantis through an advertisement on social media and I decided to check it out because it looked very interesting. I ended up choosing to go to Lisbon, Portugal, for three weeks starting at the beginning of summer.

UHP: Very cool! What sparked your interest specifically in working with doctors abroad? 

TW: When I found out about Atlantis, I was very excited because I was already looking to shadow surgeons in the hospital during the summer. I hadn’t thought about going out of the country to shadow, but then I felt that would be an even better experience. I got to learn about medicine, something I love, in a beautiful country and I had the ability to see how the healthcare system worked in another country.

UHP: That’s actually a pretty unique perspective to experience. Medicine and the culture surrounding health is so different depending on where you are. What do you hope to learn from your time in Lisbon?

TW: I hope that, while I’m in Portugal, I will learn not only about medicine but also about Portuguese culture. I want to take the time to explore and learn about the country and meet locals and learn about the history of the country. At the same time, I want to learn about the healthcare system and how medicine works in a different country and compare it to the way that medicine works in America.

Tori stands outside, in front of the Portugal hospital where she shadowed.

UHP: Can you tell us about the most interesting or challenging aspects of this experience so far?

TW: The most interesting thing that I’ve done so far is shadowing in the neurosurgery department. I never thought that I would be able to see a person’s brain one foot in front of me. The doctors even explained the anatomy of the brain to us and showed us different parts of the brain. One thing that has been challenging though is trying to adjust to the cultural differences and having to learn the differences between American culture and Portuguese culture.

UHP: That sounds really intense. I’m not sure I could handle seeing a brain that close up, honestly. What would you say has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far?

TW: The most valuable thing that I have learned so far is that people have problems all the time. People are constantly struggling in their lives even if they don’t show it to the rest of the world. Trying to understand and learn this concept has been humbling and has shown me that it is important to be kind and patient with everyone.

UHP: That’s a really valuable life lesson. You can’t read a book by its cover, so to speak. How would you say your time in the University Honors Program has helped prepare you for your time with Atlantis?

TW: I have only been in the University Honors Program for a short time, but it has still helped to prepare me for this experience. The UHP requires students to explore diverse experiences through seminars and forums, which taught me several things while on my journey abroad. It taught me to be open to new things, not to take anything for granted, and not to be scared to ask questions.

UHP: Yes, asking questions opens the doorway to all sorts of new knowledge and experiences. What would you tell other University Honors students who want to do something like this in the future?

TW: Don’t be afraid to do something different and don’t be scared to try new experiences. Take the time to enjoy life, but make sure to learn new things in the process. Having a positive mindset will prepare everyone to have a positive experience overall.

UHP: And now finally, what is the best bit of advice you’ve ever received?

TW: One piece of advice that I think is important for everyone to hear is that there will always be times when you think you have things tough, but you should always remember that there will be people out there who have it even worse. You should never give up no matter what’s going on because it will end up getting better in the end.

UHP: Having a sense of perspective on life is so important, you’re right. And that is a unique lens through which to view the work of medicine. Tori, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. We’ll look forward to hearing more about it when you return. Take care.