A self-proclaimed mythology fan, Kate was attracted to Greece’s rich history long before she arrived here. For her, living in Athens has provided her the chance to explore various aspects of the country’s history. She has had the chance to visit famous ancient sites from the Acropolis to the temple at Delphi to the palace of Knossos. Just two weeks ago, Kate even ran the 5k race of the Athens Authentic Marathon. But these experiences are only one part of her study abroad experience.
As a biology major, most of Kate’s classes here are aimed to fulfill her general education requirements back at her home institution of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. However, she has been doing much more than just studying. When she’s not in class or on CYA field trips, she dedicates a lot of her time to volunteering in the local community. Every week, Kate has been shadowing well-known surgeon Doctor Spyros Smparounis at the Metropolitan General Hospital.
When the doctor has patients, Kate interacts with them firsthand, learning about their illness and how to treat them with the Doctor. Kate even had the opportunity to witness a surgery in the room! On less busy days, Dr. Smparounis gives Kate lessons about illnesses and medical emergencies and how to treat them. As an EMT, Kate was interested in the differences between the Greek and American healthcare systems. Here in Greece, there is a universal healthcare program as well as private options. Meanwhile, in America, healthcare is mainly private. This week, Kate will sit in on a lesson from Dr. Smparounis about the cutting edge da Vinci Robotic Surgery System. Getting the chance to work closely with a renowned surgeon and developing a friendship is “once in a lifetime” Kate declared.
When she’s not working with Dr. Smparounis at the hospital, Kate also been volunteering with an organization called Medical Volunteers International (MVI). MVI is a non-profit that provides medical assistance to refugees. Once a week, Kate goes to one of their women and children’s clinics and assists doctors as they see patients. On their busiest day, fourteen patients came through during the few hours she was there. She gets to work alongside the doctors as they listen to patients about their symptoms, ask follow-up questions, and determine a diagnosis.
Unlike at many internship and volunteering experiences in the US, at MVI Kate gets to provide real input and contributions to the doctors she works with. She says that this work has given her the chance to see “what’s actually going on and how the process occurs and to look at the symptoms and go ‘okay, I think it’s this.’” Every time she goes in, she gets another opportunity to put the skills and knowledge she has gained in the classroom to the test.
One of Kate’s favorite parts of her volunteer work is that she feels she’s been able to provide more continuity at the clinic than usual. The doctors she works with are volunteering their time and efforts, so they often stay for about two weeks before switching out with a new doctor. Kate, on the other hand, has been helping at the clinic every week since mid-September. Since she has been coming for weeks now, she feels confident helping doctors recognize recurring patients and checking on their previous problems before helping them with new ones.
This is far from Kate’s first time venturing out into the medical field. She is a certified EMT, has worked in a burn clinic and trauma center, and has shadowed a variety of different medical professionals already. But even with all this experience under her belt already, she feels that her experiences here in Greece have been unique. While shadowing in the US is just “watching,” she describes her work here shadowing and with the volunteer organization as more “interactive” and “involved.” She’s had the chance to speak up and give her opinion to real medical professionals in a way that she hasn’t had the chance to in the US. While she has loved the work she has done in the US previously, she admits that “it’s one thing to learn it in the classroom but its another to actually go and to see what you’re learning in class in action and to see the consequences of it.” In her volunteer work here in Greece, Kate has gotten to witness the healing impact her help has had on real people.
This healing impact is all the more meaningful because Medical Volunteers International assists refugees. For Kate, this has been different than caring for patients at a hospital back in the US. Without the work of organizations like MVI, it can be extremely difficult for refugees to find medical care. In countries like Greece, where so many refugees have arrived in the past few years, this kind of humanitarian aid is critical. By seeing up close the situations of these refugees, Kate has gained more than just medical experience from her volunteering – she feels that her work at MVI has “opened up a whole new realm of sympathy.”
When it comes to for future CYA student who are considering volunteering, Kate’s advice was simple: “don’t be hesitant… it’s going to be great.”
For her amazing work throughout her time at CYA, Kate has been named the Student of the Semester for fall ’19! Bravo Kate!