Study Abroad Spotlight–Zane Cooke

Meet Zane Cooke, a UConn c/o 2018 graduate who majored in Biomedical Engineering, who went on to earn his Master’s in Biomedical Engineering at UConn in 2019. During his time at UConn, Zane was very involved in the university community as a member of the Cheerleading and Rugby teams, Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, and as a Resident Assistant, among other endeavors. Zane is a second-year student at Dell Medical School in Austin, TX, currently in his Pediatric clinical rotation. After finishing his Master’s degree program, he took a break from academia to work as a medical product engineer for Cardinal Health and later Medtronic. During this time, he also worked as an EMT in Boston, beginning during the COVID pandemic in February 2020. Zane is leaning towards specialization in either Emergency Medicine or Orthopedic Surgery, and most likely Pediatrics within either field. He has a particular interest in the intersection of clinical care and health technology, with a specific focus on preventative and lifestyle interventions.


Share with us your experience(s) abroad!

I studied at Lund University in southern Sweden, and I was there about five-and-a-half months from early January to late June 2017. I had stacked other semesters with courses so that I could take only four while abroad, two of which were engineering courses that contributed to my degree path, and the other two were Swedish language courses. One of the engineering courses involved a longitudinal design element, and Lund allowed me to join a team and start while remote the semester before I studied abroad.

Unfortunately, I had planned to take my MCAT in December beforehand, before realizing that the test is not offered until January once I was already set to be in Sweden. Thanks to this, I spent most of the free time of my first three weeks abroad prepping, then had to fly to Berlin to the nearest capable testing center.

After the MCAT, I had a tremendous amount of freedom, especially given how some courses were sometimes remote, and most were only held one to two times per week, and I mostly used the time to travel. I went with a group once but mostly solo traveled, and it was worth emptying my bank account, despite sounder financial advice

What was your favorite thing about your experience abroad?

To be honest, most of my time in Sweden was not health or pre-health related, aside from the engineering project I worked on being a medical device that involved us going to hospitals and speaking with providers.

Instead, I used the semester as a jumping-off point, and rather than flying home afterwards, I went to Livingstone, Zambia to volunteer in a clinic for a month. I stayed at a group home for volunteers and spent my mornings at the local police clinic helping with vaccinations, antibiotics and painkiller prescription, and anything else that came up. Afternoons were spent working on the construction of a new community school and/or doing chores for the group home.

As corny as it may sound, this was truly an eye-opening and life-changing experience, and the perspective of medicine that it provided is invaluable. This was probably my most healthcare-intensive involvement while a UConn student and until I later became an EMT.

What’s one key thing you learned?

Like I alluded to above, perspective! My experience with healthcare had largely been ER visits as needed growing up, always with insurance and always receiving the US standard of care. It gave me a respect and appreciation for healthcare that not everyone shares, but it narrowed my understanding of the span and scope of what “medicine” encompasses, and what that looks like for other people and in other places. I’d always been treated with fresh, disposable, and sterile-when-necessary medical products, but the clinician where I volunteered used the one rubber glove that he had for every patient who came in, be it for leg sores or an infant with parasitic worms. Truly changed my personal relationship with and mental paradigm for medical care.

How did it help you in your pre-medical/medical journey?

It feels like I’ve touched on most of this already, but I think an additional benefit was that I had a healthcare experience that I felt deeply about and could discuss with detail when it came to interviewing with medical schools. It mattered less where I was and what specifically my duties were and more that I was passionate about the things I was saying; they were true and I cared and felt them to be important. From what I understand, that combination of honesty and passion about what you’ve done, do, and will do is one of the most important things they look for in offering acceptances. Being able to do so genuinely and in the context of healthcare/volunteering is just icing on top.

How did you fit it into your schedule and when did you start planning for it?

I mentioned this earlier, but I started planning both my semester abroad and the subsequent volunteer trip to Zambia about a year and a half ahead of time. A large part of that was deliberately front-loading courses so that I could have more freedom once abroad. Planning ahead allowed me to join the aforementioned engineering team project the semester before I went abroad and to structure two UConn semesters with a goal in mind. I would recommend trying to start planning at least one year ahead of time, but if you have less time available, reach out to the Education Abroad department at UConn and start making moves! I would bet six months is adequate, but the earlier the better.

Is there any advice or wisdom that you would share with current students interested in going abroad?

One bad piece of advice, and one (I think) pretty solid piece of advice. For the bad, SPEND THE MONEY. Experiences mean more than material goods, and the experiences available to you will be massively new and varied and unique, and I personally endorse capitalizing on the chance you have. Yes, I emptied my bank account, and yes, I have a few thousand in student loans more. Looking back, I grew and learned so much that semester and it was worth every penny, including the ones I don’t yet have.

For the (hopefully) good advice, SAY YES. Obviously not too dangerous or downright dumb ideas, but as much as you can, push your comfort zone! Basically continuing my rant from two sentences ago, the opportunity to go abroad is a massive privilege and opens so much of life and the world to you, you just have to decide to experience it. Don’t order McDonald’s six nights a week, experience local cuisine. Don’t spend every weekend drinking at your local bar, see more of the country, or other countries. Be grateful for where you are, and treat the experience accordingly. Life’s for the living, so grab it by the horns and carpe that diem!


To learn more about going abroad as a pre-health student, view the recording of our Chat with Alumni: Experiences Abroad on our website here.

Posted 10/05/2022