Image: Anna-Sophia Capizzi and her host family during San Fermin (after seeing the running of the bulls).
By Anna-Sophia Capizzi
For the past six weeks, I had the privilege of working in Pamplona, Spain, shadowing physicians in different medical fields at the University Clinic of Navarra. This internship came through a family connection. When my mom was younger she spent a significant amount of time in Spain both studying and working. She cultivated many friendships while in Spain and, for as long as I can remember, my family has hosted the children of my mother’s many Spanish friends. One of her friends, Dr. Jorge Baixauli, has, over the past 6 years, sent each of his four children to spend a summer at my home. Dr. Baixauli is a surgeon at the Clinic specializing in General and Digestive System surgery as well as proctology. He created this summer internship for me and offered to serve as my host and mentor at the University Clinic. Dr. Baixauli coordinated with several different medical departments so that I could shadow a range of physicians during their daily activities. He and his family have also graciously hosted me in their house during my stay.
I observed pediatrics, neuro-pediatrics, gynecology, surgeries/internal medicine, and emergency medicine (in the ER). I spent between 5-7 days observing each field, but there were days when an interesting surgery was scheduled and I would reshuffle my schedule to observe it. On a typical day, the physicians started their shifts with a meeting to brief each other on how the overnight patients in urgent or intensive care progressed throughout the night. If there were no changes or patient issues, then one of the resident physicians would present on an illness associated with their field and describe best practices of treatment. After the physicians concluded their morning meeting, they would go to their respective patients. In many cases, appointments were scheduled but in other cases, like the ER, appointments were unscheduled. Most patient interactions were similar across the medical specialties as they involved consultations that resulted in a diagnosis and treatment plan. While shadowing Dr. Baixauli, however, part of the treatment is surgical, and I have therefore observed a number of fascinating and complex surgeries, including a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, a distal pancreatectomy, and an open heart surgery.
In addition to observing different medical fields, another priority for me during this time was to improve my ability to speak Spanish. I would like to have the ability to serve medically underserved Spanish-speaking immigrants in the United States and improving my proficiency the language is critical for this work. My experience interning and living in Spain has pushed me out of my comfort zone – to communicate, I must speak Spanish every day. The language immersion has been challenging but effective. I have had to converse not only with my host family but also with doctors and residents in a busy medical clinic. Speaking and hearing Spanish all summer have given me the confidence and opportunity to become a much better Spanish speaker.
My time in Spain hasn’t been all work. I have had weekends to travel outside of Pamplona. I have been to Madrid, Novelda (in Alicante), and Cullera (in Valencia), and even spent a weekend in southern France. I attended Pamplona’s “San Fermin” festival, including observing a bullfight as well as the infamous running of the bulls festival.
The total immersion in another country and culture is remarkable, and I have enjoyed every aspect of this experience. I have worked alongside gracious, generous and talented doctors who have made a point to teach me about their work. I have observed the treatments of countless patients, ranging in age from newly born to ninety years old and learned much about the practical aspects of serving patients. This internship has allowed me to appreciate the vast opportunities available in the practice of medicine and have a better sense of a doctor’s work behind the scenes.
I am extremely grateful to the Baixauli family for hosting me during my stay, with a particular thanks to Dr. Baixauli for arranging this internship and ensuring that I learned as much as possible. I am also so appreciative of Haverford College’s CCPA and Dr. Jaharis for their tremendous support. The funding I received from CCPA made it possible for me to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.