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Merit Scholar Profiles: Alexis Stefaniak



Zaragoza, Spain 


The University of Notre Dame class of 2017


Science Pre-Professional Studies and Spanish


Resident Assistant, Dean's List, Emil T. Hofman Memorial Scholarship, Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Honor Society


Global Medical Brigades participant, American Cancer Society officer, Friends of the Orphans Club officer, Notre Dame Dance Company tap dancer, College Mentors for Kids mentor, hospital volunteer, free medical clinic volunteer, Adult Development and Aging research assistant, Harper Cancer Research Institute research assistant

why did you choose the atlantis project?

Essentially, I was interested in the Atlantis Project because I felt it would serve as a unique and beneficial clinical opportunity that I could not receive through any other program; I was confident it would form an important and necessary leg of my journey to becoming the doctor I wish to be. I was drawn to the fact that the Atlantis Project would likely broaden my view of medicine not only by providing me with the opportunity to partake in long-term shadowing of physicians in multiple specialties, but also by allowing me to experience the European healthcare system and compare it to my experiences in the U.S. By spending several weeks being exposed to the daily routine of a physician, I hoped that my vocation for healthcare would become increasingly salient. I have always relished time spent shadowing physicians because I am able to gain clinical experience, mentorship, unique insights into a doctor’s life, and further direction regarding how I can practice medicine and incorporate faith into my work.

Furthermore, as student double-majoring in Spanish, I am always seeking opportunities to learn more about the culture of Spanish-speaking countries and practice my language abilities. Undeniably, the best way is by immersing myself in the language and culture. For me, one of the defining aspects of the Atlantis Project was that it perfectly combined both of my majors, Science Pre-Professional Studies and Spanish, permitting me to explore my passion for healthcare and practice speaking Spanish–a valuable skill that will carry into my future career as a doctor and allow me to connect with as many patients as possible. Lastly, just as Notre Dame has provided an outstanding alumni network that I will cherish forever, I expected the Atlantis Project to, similarly, provide me with an exceptional network of individuals passionate about medicine.


The Atlantis Project is unique because it allows students interested in medicine to experience health care in a different country than the United States and to also have a study abroad experience through excursions and cultural activities. It gives students an in-depth perspective on medicine–one they may have never received in the U.S.–and encourages them to explore their vocation, engage in the culture they are immersed in, and interact with like-minded individuals working toward a similar goal.


Unique, formative, unforgettable.

what was your favorite experience as a fellow?

My favorite experience as an Atlantis Fellow was having the opportunity to essentially live as one of the locals of Zaragoza for an entire month. Each day of the week, I took the tram to the hospital, shadowed for 5-7 hours, grabbed lunch on my way back (often with other Atlantis Fellows), and had the rest of the evening to explore the treasures of the city and interact with the locals. Group dinners with all of the fellows and our coordinators are also something I will always cherish.

Days at the hospital were both fulfilling and eye opening, and I absolutely loved being in the operating room. The surgeons and nurses were all so receptive of the Atlantis Fellows and genuinely wanted to teach us about the procedures they were doing, as well as their overall experience as health care providers in Spain. I had the opportunity to watch an open-heart surgery, which actually brought a tear to my eye when I saw the human heart beating in the chest cavity.

HOW HAS THE ATLANTIS PROJECT HELPED EQUIP YOU FOR active leadership in the medical world?

Something reinforced through my experiences with the Atlantis Project is that you get out of life whatever you put into it. It may seem intimidating at first to shadow doctors in a different country, especially when you do not fluently speak the native language, which may result in hesitancy and passive observation. However, I put my heart and mind into my fellowship experience by being an active participant–asking questions, researching procedures, talking to the doctors and nurses during downtime, and taking advantage of every opportunity without overstepping boundaries. Essentially, the Atlantis Project has reinforced that putting yourself out there and genuinely engaging in the work that you are doing allows you to grow as a strong and compassionate leader in a field that undoubtedly relies on strong leaders.