Premed student Rosellen Provost traveled to Italy with four fellow honors students for a three-week course that’s convinced her to pursue a career in medicine.
The little boy looked apprehensive as the male nurse approached to tend to his broken arm.
“You aren’t going to cry in front of all these girls are you?” he asked, smiling reassuringly. With a renewed sense of bravery, the child replied with an emphatic, “No!”
Standing nearby in the Italian emergency room, Rosellen Provost and her premed classmates smiled, too, as they watched a new friendship unfold before them.
“I always thought I might want to go into medicine, but after this experience, I have no doubt,” she said. “This is fueling me.”
Rosellen, a sophomore, was one of five undergraduate students from VCU’s Honors College to travel to Italy for three weeks this summer to explore the importance of research and learn what medical science looks like outside the United States. The trip was led by Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D. H’07, who holds the James C. Roberts, Esquire Professor in Cardiology in the VCU School of Medicine and serves as associate chair for research in the Department of Internal Medicine.
“It was fantastic,” Abbate said. “The kids had the joy of discovering, researching and caring for patients.”
The trip was part of Abbate’s brainchild: Discover Medicine in Italy, which included two three-credit courses, Introduction to Translational Research and Introduction to Medical Semiotics. Abbate, a native of Italy and a UCBM graduate, taught both courses. His wife, Vera Abbate, Ph.D., instructor in the School of World Studies, served as course director, and Salvatore Carbone, instructor of medicine, assisted Abbate with the program and classes.
The students were paired with five Italian medical students and shadowed physicians. They took day trips to hospitals in Rome and observed molecular biology experiments.
A native of Fondi, Italy, Cardiology’s Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., returned this summer to lead Discover Medicine in Italy. The course invigorated Abbate along with the Italian and VCU students he was teaching.
They also spent time in the lab and had to come up with their own concepts for future research projects. Rosellen’s project focused on a clinical trial for a vaccine that stops heroine from being synthesized and going to the brain, thus making a drug user immune to a physical high. Others explored new devices and dementia treatments.
Abbate was impressed with all the students’ work, and said, “their excitement for discovery was contagious.”
Even Abbate got recharged. His own love for research got its start when he was a medical student in Italy. As the years passed and administrative duties grew, he could feel the burn out coming. He wasn’t sure he wanted to encourage young students into the field. Then he read the book, “The Vanishing Physician Scientist,” and found a new perspective.
“As busy as we can be, I think sometimes we forget how beautiful research work is,” Abbate said. “This trip gave me time to reflect and to really appreciate what we do. Spending time with the students and sharing with them my passion, seeing their eyes light up, reinvigorated me. Nothing is more addicting than the thrill of discovery.”
Abbate got the idea to organize the study abroad opportunity after the University of Rome invited him on campus as a visiting professor last year. He said he would only accept if he could get something out of it that would be of value to VCU students.
He contacted the Honors College because he wanted to reach out to premed students. Those interested attended an orientation, filled out an application and secured their passports. The college pitched in with the finances, offering each student $2,500 toward the cost of the trip.
“To get a global perspective on healthcare is an enriching experience,” said Jacqueline Smith-Mason, Ph.D., associate dean of the Honors College. “Study abroad can be life-changing.”
During their time in Italy, students got a taste of what universal health care is like. They saw how medicine – from procedures to patient interaction – differ abroad. They also visited Fondi, where Abbate grew up, Pompeii and Sperlonga.
“What a beautiful country,” Rosellen said. “But what I loved most was the theme of service there. They live to serve other people. That’s exactly what I want to do.”
By Janet Showalter