Volunteering in Athens: Doctors of the World

Joanna Simos Assistant Director, Experiential Education


February 5, 2016

During the Fall semester, Olivia Smith spent most of her free time volunteering at Doctors of the World in central Athens. Awarded a Co-Curricular Learning Certificate (CLC) for her activity, Olivia reflects on her time at DOW as a physician's assistant:

Becoming a surgeon has always been a dream of mine because it gives me the power to make a positive impact by saving the lives of others. Therefore, it is imperative that I obtain experiences that can guide me when I am a surgeon. Being a doctor is about more than just the science, it is also about the people and how I, as a doctor can help my patient. As a surgeon I will be required to help a range of different patients from different cultures, beliefs, and sometimes countries. So, I was elated to hear that while studying abroad in Greece I would have the opportunity to volunteer with Doctors of the World. I was eager to observe doctors of different specialties interact with their patients, learn how an international non–governmental, independent, humanitarian organization works and what they provide for the community, and to gain knowledge and experience in the field that I really love.

In all my previous experience in the medical field, I never had the opportunity to see how a non-governmental, independent, humanitarian organization works. To me, it’s crazy how I can take advantage of being able to see a doctor and have health insurance and receive medicine when there are multiple people that cannot afford any of these benefits or do not have it as easily accessible, which is why Doctors of the World is such an important organization. It was heartwarming to see all of these people be able to receive free treatment and get free diapers, formula, clothes, food, and medicine. It helped open my eyes to things I take for granted and future career choices by seeing this kind of practice and how beneficial Doctors of the World is to the Athens’ community. There are many refugees and natives that have been affected by the crisis that need medical attention and because of Doctors of the World, all of the community’s medical needs are met completely for free.

Being able to volunteer my time at Doctors of the World was absolutely amazing, I enjoyed my time immensely. Not only was I able to volunteer in the medical field, but I was also able to gain more knowledge. While in the pediatrics center, I shadowed a doctor who helped me understand what was going on and what was being said, since I do not speak Greek. Every patient that came in, he would tell me what their appointment was for, if they were there for vaccines or health concerns. He then would tell me all their symptoms and how they were going to give them a checkup or what vaccine they were giving and why. Also, if he or the staff made jokes between themselves or with the patients he would tell me in English what they said. His helpfulness so was so appreciated, I loved learning what symptoms a patient had and how they would go about treating them. Although I participated in a medical internship in high school, they did not take us to see patients and tell us step by step what was wrong with them and what the solution was. Volunteering with Doctors of the World enabled me to learn more specifics on vaccines and types of symptoms and a few more medical terms than I had learned in my previous experience.

Shadowing doctors in different specialties at Doctors of the World provided me with the chance to gain more experience in a field I love. Although it did not change how I felt about being a cardiothoracic surgeon, I still want to be a cardiothoracic surgeon; it enhanced my passion for working in the medical field even more. Exploring all these species and meeting new doctors made me extremely excited to begin my journey as a surgeon and be able to provide and make at least half an impact as the doctors from Doctors of the World.

Even though I want to be a surgeon in the United States, I will still have many diverse patients, thus it is important that I learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds, which volunteering with Doctors of the World has taught me. Volunteering and learning how to work with patients from different countries provided me with experience that I cannot gain anywhere else. Gaining this experience from Doctors of the World has prepared me for my future career by showing me firsthand how doctors treat their patients and how to interact with those from different cultures. I believe this experience I gained while in Greece will be carried with me throughout my career and can also help me in other aspects of my life as well. I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity to volunteer with Doctors of the World.