Doctors in Italy: UM graduate finds opportunity of a lifetime, accidentally

The University of Miami offers dozens of study abroad programs for undergraduates, but for one UM biomedical sciences graduate, it took four years and an accidental application to find the opportunity of a lifetime 5,183 miles away in Italy.

Not realizing that the program was predominantly made up of undergraduate enrollees at various universities, Barbara Mera, a 26-year old UM graduate school graduate, applied and was accepted to the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program after she found the application through a former Florida International University (FIU) undergraduate pre-health committee mailing list.

“I found out by accident, because this program is actually geared towards undergraduate students and I’ve been out of school since 2017,” Mera said. “I’m like, I’m not in college anymore. I don’t need to do this. And then I saw the ‘Doctors in Italy’ and I was like, doctors? Italy? That’s right up my alley.”

Established in 2018, the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program is a study abroad summer internship for pre-medical and pre-health students to gain international experience in their respective fields.

Barbara Mera (second right) and other participants in the Doctors in Italy program pose for a group picture at the Campus Bio Medico University in Rome during the summer of 2021.
Barbara Mera (second right) and other participants in the Doctors in Italy program pose for a group picture at the Campus Bio Medico University in Rome during the summer of 2021. Photo credit: Barbara Mera

Students worldwide are invited to further explore the fields of medicine and health care through intensive clinical shadowing with experienced physicians at one of the most prestigious hospitals in Italy: Campus Bio Medico University.

“We wish to help students kick-start their careers and prepare them for the future of medicine in a digital, borderless world,” said Dr. Francesco Serino, a representative for Doctors in Italy.

Prior to participating in the program last summer, Mera graduated from UM in 2020 with a master’s in biomedical sciences after attending Florida International University for her undergraduate studies. She is currently a clinical research coordinator at UM and is in the process of applying to medical schools.

Compared to her undergraduate counterparts, Mera was a non-traditional applicant to Doctors in Italy. While overjoyed by her accomplishment, Mera admitted to having a taxing application process.

“There was a lot of back and forth,” Mera said. “So my application process was stressful, because I work full time. I was like, ‘Am I going to do this? Am I not going to do this?’”

After completing her application and interview process, Mera received no communication for several weeks. Finally, months after applying to the program, she received her official acceptance email.

“All of a sudden I get an email saying, you’ve been accepted…Welcome to Rome. And I’m like, ‘What? I almost didn’t do it. And I was like, ‘No, I have to do it,’” Mera said. “That was the best decision I made.”

Mera spent three weeks in Italy, immersed in Italian culture and engrossed in her work in Italian hospitals. She described the journey abroad as a meaningful experience and said it helped her zero in on her career goals.

She highlighted the importance of cultural and language immersion to the success of the program. Before participating in Doctors in Italy, Mera said she hoped to pursue a normal medical degree in medical school. Her exposure to Italy’s healthcare system, however, has motivated her to add a Master of Public Health degree and explore the international public health sector.

“It kind of changed my career path in a sense,” Mera said. “There are a lot of things that countries can learn from each other that I learned by doing this program and by being in Italy.”