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Biomedical Engineering Major Megan Dell Gains Hands-on Medical Training in Italy

Dell (far left) with other students studying in Fondi, a coastal town an hour south of Rome.

By Andy Lohman

BME major Megan Dell studied translational research and medical semiotics in Fondi, Italy.

Megan Dell, a biomedical engineering student and VCU women’s soccer senior defender, recently had an experience she always wanted: a three-week study abroad trip to Italy.

“I’ve always wanted to study abroad,” Dell said. “So my big thing was how am I going to fit in studying abroad into my schedule? As an engineer I can’t do it once my eligibility is up in the spring because I have to finish my senior design project, so I had to do it during the summer.”

After taking the Medical College Admission Test and just before the fall season, Dell traveled to Fondi, Italy. In the coastal town in central Italy a little over an hour south of Rome, she took two courses, one in translational research, and one in medical semiotics.

“It was a medical program, which is what I wanted,” Dell said. “Everything fit together. I always say, ‘the best things in life find you.’”

In a medical context, translational research aims to translate findings from fundamental research into real-life health solutions, while semiotics is the study of diagnosing disease. The students spent time on a range of topics, from learning about the background of the diseases being studied, to learning how to write research papers for grant proposals.

When not in the classroom, Dell was getting hands-on experience with patients, listening to heart murmurs and arrhythmias, and performing physical exams.

“Growing up I wanted to be a doctor. I broke a lot of bones and saw a lot of ER rooms,” Dell said on how she chose the biomedical engineering path. “Math is my strong suit, but I also liked biology. After AP Bio I was like ‘I can’t take this class 20 different times.’ At the same time, calculus was easy for me. So I combined the two.”

Biomedical engineering is the application of engineering, technology and scientific concepts, to solve biomedical problems and engineering challenges. Dell, an honors student, is applying to attend medical school after she completes her undergraduate degree.

In addition to developing in the classroom, Dell developed a sense of independence while she was abroad. Perhaps most importantly, Dell reinforced her love for medicine.

“Just learning how much I truly enjoyed learning about medical things,” Dell said. “In engineering we do a whole lot of math and theory, but in our classes we were learning about actual diseases: what they look like, how they present, causes, what are similar ones that could confuse you about what they actually have.”

“Actually being able to touch patients and listen to the stethoscope, it made me truly know for sure that I wanted to do medicine.”

Overall, the defender returned to the States after her trip with a renewed perspective on her field and life.

“It’s definitely worth it,” Dell said. “Coming from an engineering perspective, medicine is always changing. Seeing how it’s actually different in other places, and can be different and can be changed and improved if the other way is better is very interesting. It makes you not set in your ways.”

The experience had a profound impact on Dell, and she now encourages other student-athletes to take advantage of it if they can.

“If you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it.”