Shadowing doctors in Italy

The second-year neuroscience major spent the summer connecting with both her past and her future.

Julia Ognibene gives two thumbs up next to a series of sinks
Julia Ognibene spent five weeks shadowing doctors at the Policlinico di Sant’Orsola, one of Italy’s foremost hospitals. (Image: Julia Ognibene)

Julia Ognibene is Italian on all sides. Each of her four grandparents immigrated from the Old World to America, and her mother is constantly looking for ways to strengthen the connection to their heritage, Ognibene says. That’s how the second-year from Westchester, New York, ended up in Bologna, Italy this summer, spending five weeks shadowing doctors in specialties ranging from orthopedics to obstetrics and gynecology at the Policlinico di Sant’Orsola, one of Italy’s foremost hospitals.

Ognibene also spent a week touring the country and visiting family alongside her mother and grandmother, immersing herself in the culture and history. “The only way that I really can connect with my Italian culture is through my family,” says Ognibene.

The Doctors in Italy Fellowship was the perfect way to connect with her heritage while learning more about medicine and health care, she says. The program provides graduate and undergraduate students with the opportunity to shadow health care professionals in both government and private health care facilities.

As a neuroscience major minoring in chemistry and health care management, she was able use the program to get a better perspective of health care, Ognibene says. 

“Choosing to pursue a shadowing opportunity in a foreign country with a different culture and language is a testament to one’s bravery,” says Lisa Ferraro, the country operations manager for the Doctors in Italy Fellowship programs. “We deeply admire Julia’s unwavering commitment to personal growth as she ventured beyond her comfort zone, embracing international education.”

Ognibene brought a new perspective to the program, Ferraro says, introducing new ideas to the group and sparking discussion. One such topic was private versus single-payer health care systems. In Italy, Ognibene got a front-row seat to the pros and cons of both. 

“Some doctors said, ‘We’re very, very proud of our Italian health care system, it’s very strong and we have great access for everybody. It’s one of our proudest features,’” she says. “And then I would speak to other doctors who would say, ‘It’s a great system in theory but on paper, our country’s going into debt.’” 

Ognibene did not spend much time considering either point of view before the program, which she says helped her better understand the importance of health care and led her to add the health care management minor.

“Being a doctor, it’s important to not only understand the medicine, know your patients, and perform a procedure well, but also to understand what’s driving medicine,” Ognibene says.