Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lindsay Riordan, UVA '16, Shares Her Study Abroad Story

1. Which study abroad program did you participate in? How did you learn about it and what made you select this program instead of others? 

I am participating in the UVA in St Andrews: Science for Health Professions program. After going abroad in the summer (with another great pre-health trip, UVA in Guatemala: Engineering Public Health), I knew I wanted to go abroad again for an entire semester. Since I needed direct credit for my science coursework, options were limited. The St Andrews program was the only English-speaking option in the world that UVA would recognize, so I really just ended up here!

2. How would you compare your coursework and study methods at St. Andrews to your academic experience at UVA? 

The academic structure of St Andrews is vastly different than UVA. The typical course load is 2-3 "modules," rather than the typical 5-6 at UVA. Actual classroom time is also fairly limited, with two of my modules only meeting for 1.5 hours per week. In Pre-Honours modules (1st and 2nd year courses), the professors might rotate, so you have a different professor every week. There is no syllabus for reading, so you choose how much or how little you need to read about the lecture material. There are no tests throughout the semester, so the final exams are cumulative and heavily weighted (5--75% in my modules).

I am taking the Cell Structure and Function module, which is the equivalent of Cell Biology at UVA. The lab and lecture are linked under the same module, so I attend a 3-hour lab session each week. However, most of the labs are ungraded, the demonstrators are cheerful and helpful, and the facility is brand new. I have three assessed labs for which I will write a (short) lab report that is marked. These three reports are the only assessments I have throughout the semester and the standard is quite high.

Throughout the semester, I have less coursework and reading than I do at UVA. Day-by-day, the pace is slower and I am learning the material much more thoroughly as a result. However, the school's academic standards are high and the grade conversion used by UVA is not very generous. If you are looking for a GPA boost, this is not the place for you. If you are excited about learning for the sake of learning, it's perfect.

3. Describe a typical day or week for this semester. 

 Typically, I have breakfast in my hall of residence at 8am, go to my Cell Structure and FUnction lecture at 9am, and exercise at 10am. I return to my hall of residence for lunch at 12:30pm and then have the afternoon to study, shop, hang out with friends, or go to my lab/workshops for other classes. Dinner is served in the hall of residence at 5:45pm and I have club meetings a few nights per week at 8pm. I travel every weekend, mostly in Scotland, but internationally about once a month.

4. What has been your most valuable experience thus far? In what ways do you expect this experience will benefit you as a whole? 

There is an incredible course in the medical school at St Andrews for pre-med study abroad students from UVA, W&L, and UofR. It's called "The Art of the Medical Practitioner," and it's taught by two practicing physicians in St Andrews. The purpose of the course is to introduce medical terminology and clinical skills and the schedule is chosen in consultation with students. This semester, we are learning how to take patient histories, practicing with medical actors, and then testing our skills with real patients at the GP surgery. We're learning basic clinical skills, such as measuring blood pressure, testing reflexes, and stabilizing the C-spine. We're learning about anatomy by going to the cadaver lab and the physician-patient relationship by shadowing in the hospital. 

The opportunity this course provides is worth more than I can express. I learned the fundamentals of medicine at home, but am able to actually put that knowledge into practice at St Andrews. My understanding of the role of a medical student and the role of a physician has heightened and I feel much more prepared to assume those roles in the future. I have had time for reflection and growth, which has assured me that this is the career for me.

5. What might make this program a good fit for other UVA students? Why? 

This program is a unique opportunity for pre-health students to spend a semester at one of the best universities in the world and engage in the small and tailored experiential course mentioned above. The town of St Andrews is quaint and lovely, the facilities are state-of-the-art, and the professors are more passionate about their subjects and students than I could have imagined. Studying abroad has challenged me to adapt my ways of thinking and live outside my comfort zone. It has provided new friends and a new perspective on the art of doctoring. I feel re-energized and ready to resume my studies at UVA and apply to medical schools in the summer. I am forever indebted to this program for an incredible experience.