Skip to main content

International experiences prepare future pediatrician for human-centered care

May 22, 2024

Indiana University School of Medicine second-year student Morgan Foley was ready to take on the challenges of clinical rotations this month thanks in part to the international enhancement grant she received for the summer after her first year of medical school.

The highlight of Foley’s undergraduate experience was volunteering on weekends at Barretstown: A Serious Fun Camp in Kildare, Ireland. The camp serves children ages 7 to 17 who are living with serious illnesses.

Morgan Foley in front of the Barretstown sign IU School of Medicine student Morgan Foley used an international enhancement grant to spend the summer volunteering at Barretstown: A Serious Fun Camp in Kildare, Ireland. Photo courtesy of IU Global

Barretstown provides children and their families from across 13 countries in the European Union with opportunities to play, grow and explore without interrupting medical treatment, all free of charge. Volunteer camp leaders, nurses and doctors like Foley help the camp provide experiences not typically open to children with challenging medical diagnoses.

After that initial experience, Foley spent the next three years dreaming of returning. With more skills and knowledge to understand the psychology of her campers and the therapeutic recreation model that the camp employs, Foley was determined to figure out how to return between her first and second years of medical school. Funding from IU Global’s international enhancement grant helped make that possible.

“My desire to return to Barretstown was really to understand a lot more about the challenges that pediatric patients face outside of just their diagnosis, to really get the human perspective,” Foley said.

Several of her IU School of Medicine peers sought one of many research internships or laboratory opportunities, but Foley wanted to spend her summer doing something more patient-centered. As an aspiring pediatrician with an interest in psychiatry, she sought another opportunity to hone the specific communication style required to explain complex disease processes, illnesses and treatments to the youngest patients and their parents.

While her IU School of Medicine classes included comprehensive case studies of hypothetical pediatric patients that tested future doctors’ abilities to accurately identify disease presentations, Foley appreciated the ability to understand what a diagnosis means to the patient and their family.

“This is really a great experience to go beyond that multiple-choice question and see the actual impact,” she said.

Foley, who recently started her clinical rotations in general surgery at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said her experiences in Irel... Foley, who recently started her clinical rotations in general surgery at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said her experiences in Ireland have shaped her approach to patient interactions. Photo courtesy of IU Global

Barretstown specializes in providing therapeutics for children experiencing serious illnesses. As a “Cara” — Irish for “friend” — Foley spent last summer leading groups of campers and individuals in activities throughout the day, encouraging them to take part in all camp activities while ensuring their safety and well-being. The core belief that “happiness is not just for healthy children,” and the explicit prioritization of mental and emotional health alongside physical health, is one that both Foley and Barretstown share.

The wholistic view of health not only inspired Foley to return to the Irish summer camp; it is also what drew her to the IU School of Medicine from her native Oklahoma. In addition to being interested in living in a new city, the opportunity to volunteer at the Student Outreach Clinic in her first two years cemented her decision to come to IU.

“I really liked the Student Outreach Clinic because it’s a really big, interdisciplinary clinic, which is a really cool approach to safety-net health care,” Foley said.

The parallels between her clinical work and Barretstown became even more apparent during her second week of camp last summer. The first week of camp had mostly included campers from Ireland, but in week two, Foley’s group was almost exclusively Spanish and Italian. This added the challenge of working through interpreters to Foley’s already challenging work of encouraging campers to connect, engage and play while understanding the complexities of their diagnosis. She put that experience to work immediately when she returned to Indianapolis at the end of summer.

“There are a lot of Spanish-speaking patients who come in to the outreach clinic,” Foley said. “Having the experience with the interpreters at Barretstown meant that I didn’t have to figure out how to work with an interpreter in the clinic and instead could have more human-centered interactions with the patients, even with a language barrier.”

As Foley moves forward in her medical career and begins the in-person interactions in clinicals, residency and beyond, she anticipates that her experiences with Barretstown will continue to positively shape her patient interactions. She discovered the International Enhancement Grant by chance but has been an avid champion of the importance and impact of global experiences, and not just for future pediatricians. Although Foley has only just started her clinical rotations in general surgery at the Department of Veterans Affairs, she already has seen the positive impact her summer experience has on her patients.

“Regardless of patient age and background, the burden of disease for patients isn’t something that can be taught in a classroom,” Foley said. “Having the opportunity to deepen my understanding of this burden on the campers in Barretstown extends to my rotations, allowing me to connect with patients and ensure they are receiving holistic, patient-centered care.

“Whether your degree is in neuroscience or history of the Roman Empire, you’re always going to be working with someone who has a different background. An international experience forces you out of your own background into a new place where you might feel a little uncomfortable. It’s an opportunity to grow a lot in cultural humility and cultural understanding.”

Her advice to other first-year medical students is that IU has opportunities to enrich your education and prepare you for the future, whether your focus is research or patient care.

“I feel like this sounds so cliche like, ‘Oh, study abroad is so impactful!’ But this summer was such a life-changing experience for me,” Foley said. “I think the best thing for other people to know is to just go for it.”


IU Global

Marielle Petranoff

More stories

News at IU