When one thinks about medical internships, Spain might not be the first destination that comes to mind. However, for Katie-Starr Harrell, a senior biology major from Oviedo, Florida, traveling across the Atlantic was the perfect way to pursue her interests.

This summer, Harrell spent four weeks in Madrid, Spain, as part of the Atlantis Fellowship a fellowship program that allows students to pursue clinical shadowing while living in a different country. Harrell’s program allowed her to join other college students from the United States and abroad as they shadowed doctors in hospitals throughout Madrid.

When asked what drew her to Spain, Harrell responded that it was a matter of practicality.

“I have a few years of Spanish under my belt, so I wanted to go to a country where I could practice a language instead of spending a whole month not understanding anything,” she stated.

For Harrell, experiencing a culture where the dominant language was not English was a multifaceted experience.

“It was both the most amazing thing and the most intimidating thing in my life,” she said. “Most people in Europe speak two to three languages minimum. It’s intimidating, it’s inspiring, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to push myself.”

There were many such opportunities available to Harrell while she stayed in Madrid. A typical day of shadowing started at around 7 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.

“I stayed as long as they would let me.”

For Harrell. the most challenging part of her experience in Spain was not the long hours or a language barrier, it was the lack of community.

“Going from somewhere like Milligan to having maybe one or two friends max was rough,” she said. “But it did inspire me to go out and see the world.”

Even with all of the cultural experiences and traveling she experienced this summer, Harrell identified her last day of shadowing as the most meaningful experience. She described how she arrived at the hospital that day to learn that she had the opportunity to witness a 4-hour lumbar fusion surgery firsthand.

“To most people that doesn’t really sound desirable, and I wasn’t too sure if I was going to like it,” she said. “But it was so fascinating and drove my passions further into medicine.”

Harrell felt that experience shadowing in the Madrid hospitals broadened her horizons in a variety of ways.

“My time in Spain made me realize that my dreams in the medical field can be used elsewhere, whether through mission work or just being able to communicate with people in a way that respects and honors them,” she said.

After she graduates this spring, Harrell hopes to participate in a Physician’s Assistant program at Milligan or another school in the area. For now, though, she plans to use her experiences in unique ways within her community.

Harrell also offered a few words of advice to students considering a study abroad program.

“Take advantage of the opportunities you’re provided with to learn, to grow, and to be humbled by the experience and you will come back a better person.”

Written by Elizabeth Dykes (’21)