The Atlantis Project Fellowship is focused on helping pre-med and pre-health students pursue their academic and career goals. Below, Nico Coleman, a 2014 AP Fellow in Portugal, shares his experience with the Atlantis Project and how it helped him get into UCSF's top-three medical school program this year.
How did you become interested in medicine? What specialties are you interested in specifically?
Throughout my childhood, I always wanted to be a herpetologist, basically in hopes to become the next Crocodile Hunter. Even though that did not end up working out, this dream was one of my many experiences that showed me I had a deeper interest in the life sciences. High school biology reaffirmed this concept, and thus I went into my undergraduate as a biology major. I planned to use the degree to either go into research or medicine.
To help discern between these two choices, I worked hard in class to maintain a medical school-competitive GPA and joined a molecular genetics lab to get a feel for the research environment. Though I was in the lab for three semesters, the experience dissuaded me from pursuing a career in research, as it was lacking a certain degree of social interaction that I felt I wanted/needed for a career.
With a career in research no longer on the drawing board, I tried my best to find an appropriate healthcare internship. I felt it would be important because I had yet to have a developed idea of what a career as a physician was truly like; no one in my immediate or extended family were doctors or nurses, and I had only pursued minimal hospital shadowing and volunteer experiences in the past. The Atlantis Project was actually my first in-depth look at the life of a physician.
The exposure I received through the Atlantis Project showed me I wanted to be a doctor. It represented for me an occupation that balanced the competency of knowledge-based learning with the compassion associated with a social, patient-centered daily schedule. From the AP, I went on to pursue an internship at University of California, Davis School of Medicine and worked to incorporate for physiology-based classes into my undergraduate coursework.
Now at UCSF, I cannot say that I have a specific specialty that I have chosen for my life's work. I can say that I am looking into primary care because of my enjoyment shadowing in that environment and because I could be in a position to do a lot of good in the medically-underserved areas of Central California. But, I am keeping an open mind and taking various introductory electives to expose myself to all that the realm of medicine has to offer.
How did you hear about the Atlantis Project and why did it excite you?
I heard about the Atlantis Project from a friend who had come across it while researching it online. She mentioned it to me because it had come up that I was of Portuguese heritage and that I had taken three years of the language while in high school. Though I admit that my Portuguese is not at all a strength, I was very interested in an opportunity that allowed me to gain insight into a physician's lifestyle while also giving me the chance to explore the beautiful archipelago.
Tell us about your summer with the Atlantis Project - what were your favorite experiences in the hospital?
As an individual not wholly in tune with how a hospital works, I was lucky to find doctors across departments very happy to be joined by an American intern. The opportunity to spend such long, uninterrupted time in the hospital allowed me to gain insight into the progression of hospital life. The physicians and staff all demonstrated the vital components of a physician’s mental toolbox; I learned that ability and medical knowledge alone do not fully heal a patient. Rather, character, compassion, and understanding are what separate good doctors from great ones. Talking with these professionals about their own life decisions helped me firmly evaluate my own desires to pursue my M.D. degree, setting me onto the path that I am still continuing to walk along.
Did you find the Atlantis Project educational experiences useful for your med school applications? How did you apply what you learned in a European healthcare system in your graduate applications, essays, or interviews?
My experiences as a part of the Atlantis Project were the overwhelming majority of my AMCAS personal statement essay and heavily featured in other aspects of the application, as the social components I encountered in the hospital in Ponta Delgada were what lead to me embracing the medical journey. Moreover, the chance to shadow physicians of multiple specialties, from multiple nationalities, and operating under a different healthcare system served to truly enhance my view of medicine. I was able to translate my experiences on the island into answers to a wide-ranging array of prompts throughout the primary and secondary application processes, as well as during interviews.
To explain how such information was applied is too wide ranging a subject matter; I guess the best way to put it is that the AP gave me exposure to many themes associated with modern medicine. Compassion, global health, the importance of a patient-centered workplace... all of these concepts can be directly experienced while on hospital rounds; the lessons learned about such topics are directly applicable to questions a student may be asked throughout the application process.
What would you say to an American pre-med undergraduate considering applying to the AP Fellowship for 2016?
If you are an inexperienced student (as I was) thinking about medicine, apply to the Atlantis Project because such a time-intensive shadowing opportunity can provide you with insight into the healthcare lifestyle. This will help you better decide whether or not to embark on what is a rigorous career path. Personally, it showed me that I had the right convictions to pursue this path, the necessary empathy and social spirit to become a medical professional that was not just "a doctor" but someone that a patient could happily claim as "their" doctor, just like the physicians I encountered through AP.
If you are a more experienced student, not to worry, the Atlantis Project still holds much more important specific information. The concepts that can be absorbed during these shifts can be directly integrated into poignant application statements, showing that you as an applicant are knowledgeable and insightful about the workforce that you are hoping to enter.
And lastly, for anyone and everyone, the Azorean archipelago is a beautiful, culturally-rich area that makes time with the community of interns so much fun! You can walk back from the hospital and go play soccer, head to the park, go to the beach, get on a plane/ferry to another island to explore, etc! You are in a collection of amazing students from across America, and you will be able to take advantage of all of the location of people have to offer during your free time!
Atlantis Fellows shadow international health professionals for 20+ hours a week, explore the beautiful program locations, improve language skills, and can give back to the community by teaching English to hospital staff or local residents. For more details, click here.