When is the best time to study abroad? Little did Michael Fellenbaum, M.D. (’20), know that an orthopaedic surgery rotation in New Zealand would fortuitously finish just before travel closed down, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new (May 2020) College of Medicine graduate reflects here on what led him to seek out the rotation and what the experience meant to him.
Twelve years ago, my wife and I moved to New Zealand on a whim with nothing but four suitcases. I was working in IT in Washington, D.C., and we needed a change. Travel was in our blood. We had both studied abroad in Luxembourg during college. After graduation, she moved to Namibia for the Peace Corps and I spent a year and a half teaching English in Japan and traveling through Asia.
Six years ago, we moved back to my hometown of Cleveland from Whangarei, New Zealand. It was bittersweet. We returned with a two-year-old daughter, a baby on the way, a dog and countless memories, leaving behind a group of friends we had come to love like family. We moved to Cleveland to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a doctor. And it has been a dream.
So, when the opportunity arose to do an overseas elective during my fourth year, we jumped on it. We wanted to take our little ones on an adventure, so I reached out to everyone I could think of in New Zealand and landed an orthopedic surgery rotation at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in Tauranga. The stars aligned and we were able to spend all of February in the land of the long white cloud during the peak of summer.
As a future emergency medicine resident, I avoided the OR like the plague and spent my days with orthopedic residents responding to emergencies in the ED and fielding calls from general practitioners in the community. It was a blast and I learned a great deal. New Zealanders are wonderful people. They didn't work me too hard, so there was plenty of time for the pursuit of leisure like fishing, surfing, hunting and sunset barbecues on the beach.
It was wonderful catching up with old friends, making new ones and exploring new territory. My children's teachers and principals were accommodating and loaded us up with the material necessary for my wife to home-school them. Dr. Sperling [David Sperling, M.D. (‘85), senior director of clinical experiential learning] and Victor Torres [director of global engagement] made the planning process easy from the NEOMED end. I'm very grateful.