Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Cattolica International

Dictionary Dreams to Medical Reality: Elena's Inspirational Voyage

by Zeynep Erten


Step into Elena's world and witness the incredible journey of resilience and determination she has embarked on. From navigating cultural challenges to pursuing her passion for medicine, Elena's story is one of unwavering courage. Follow along as she becomes a pioneer in the medical community, inspiring others with her leadership and advocacy. Through her experiences, Elena showcases the power of embracing diversity and fostering inclusivity.

In a world where we often try to fit into one certain identity, country, or nation, Elena chose to belong to many. Given her multicultural background, Elena experienced some challenges blending in while growing up. She attended a French school in Tokyo and spoke both Italian and Japanese within her household. Having to speak another language other than your native one in your social settings may be challenging for some people, but Elena powered through that.

Going to Rome to study at Università Cattolica's 6-year Single-Cycle MD in Medicine and Surgery helped her in the process of understanding herself.
While adapting to her unique environment, she discovered a new aspect of herself that felt more aligned with her Italian background.

Elena, despite not enjoying being in the spotlight, chose to confront this challenge by immersing herself more in Università Cattolica’s community. Among many things, she joined a diverse group of international students, gaining a deeper understanding of the concept of community. Of course, being fluent in four languages – Japanese, Italian, French, and English – helped her in this situation. By being the first student from Japan to enrol in the Medicine and Surgery programme, she paved the way for others who wanted to follow in her footsteps. She became a bridge between continents.

Elena never believed she would be the person to achieve this, and as she started to become more active in the medical community, students from Asia started contacting her about how to enrol and become a part of this exciting experience.



As Elena shared her deep love for medicine, she remembered a special present from her parents: a dictionary given to her as a little girl. Its pages sparked her interest in healing and with each word she read, she took one step further in believing that one day, she would become Dr. Elena Shimizu. “I asked my parents for a dictionary when I was 7 years old, and I learned all of the medical terms that were in it by heart, like operating room tools.” She set her dreams high ever since she was a little girl; there was never a plan B. She stayed true to herself and overcame obstacles to continue her path, the path she always dreamed of. Despite the challenges of balancing her studies with her new responsibilities, Elena remained dedicated to her commitment to helping her community. She undertook several roles in the emergency room, including covering code reds, during her internship at the “A. Gemelli” University Hospital. She knew that these experiences would help her in the future when joining the Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), in Japan. A goal she aims to achieve as a doctor to make a global impact.

However, she did not simply undertake these tasks. During her internship in Switzerland, at the end of her 6th year of studying medicine, she was trusted with important roles. She had the chance to experience what night shifts at a hospital looked like and was able to prescribe medication. Being able to do all this helped her put into perspective how the rest of her life was going to look and connect the dots between the theoretical and practical aspects of medicine.

Experiencing diverse countries and encountering various perspectives broadened her understanding of medicine. This exposure she had to different healthcare systems and practices, enhanced her approach to patient care and made her thrive among her peers. Upon returning to Rome to obtain her degree in Medicine and Surgery, Elena came back with a completely different mindset. Her journey from a shy student to a confident leader and cultural ambassador inspired those around her to embrace their unique identities and celebrate the diversity of Università Cattolica. Throughout her time at the University, Elena actively engaged in various initiatives, fostering connections, and advocating for inclusivity. She positioned herself at the forefront of promoting understanding and acceptance, encouraging others to embrace their individuality and contribute to the rich tapestry of experiences that characterised the university community.

And as a true Worldbounder, she would continue to be a bridge to continents and foster understanding in the world.

Looking back on her journey, Elena could not help but notice how far she had come. From a young girl struggling to find her place to a confident, compassionate doctor and advocate for change, she has gone beyond expectations and achieved what she once dreamed of. As she prepared for the next chapter of her life, Elena knew she would face any challenges with the same courage and determination that had brought her this far. She looked at the dictionary her parents had given her and reminisced about her younger self, a girl who had big dreams. Elena recently undertook her residency exam to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming a doctor in Japan, a dream on the verge of becoming reality.