The Art of Medicine: Education, History, and Adventures in Florence, Italy

For the past two weeks, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with some other students from D’Youville College to the city of Florence, Italy. The purpose of the trip was to take a two week course designed specifically for us by the University of Florence, in cooperation with D’Youville’s Math and Natural Sciences Department. Although it may seem so, this trip wasn’t strictly business. While working towards getting our credit for the class, we were allowed plenty of free time to explore, shop, and most importantly, to have fun!

I’ll start with some facts about the city, tell you about the course we took, and then list some information so you can get involved for next year!

The City of Florence, Italy

Founded around 80 BC, Florence continues to be a bright spot in the country of Italy. With a population of around 400,000 (more in the city center), the city still remains as thriving and vibrant as ever. Known to the Italians as ‘Firenze’, Florence lies in the Tuscan region of Italy, and has a relatively moderate climate compared to some of the regions in the South. Throughout history, Florence has remained an important city in world affairs, and some even credit the beginning of the Renaissance to the city. Today, the tourist draw is great, as the many museums and galleries in the city contain precious pieces of art on display, such as Michelangelo’s famous work, David.

Florence has something for everyone: the history nut, the artist, the foodie, and even the shopaholic. The scenery is beautiful, and there is always music in the street wherever you walk. A true gem of Europe, Florence is a must see for every curious traveler.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

The famous bridge, Ponte Vecchio, by night. The bridge is home to many vendors, and spans the Arno River, one of three that flow throughout the city.

So, why did students from DYC go?

Every summer for the past few years, a group of Italian students has come to DYC in order to use the state-of-the-art Gross Anatomy labs we are so lucky to have. Certain laws in Italy prevent the students from being able to dissect cadavers for study, so they travel to the US in order to get experience. In cooperation with the University of Florence and DYC’s Math and Natural Sciences Department, a two-week course titled ‘The Art of Medicine’ was developed in order to welcome students of D’Youville to the University of Florence. The two-week, one credit course offered us an education in the histories of both art and medicine in Italy, specifically Florence, which was the home to many of these advances in medicine. We got to take classes in different buildings of the University throughout the city, as well as gained access to many museums and historical sights.

That sounds neat! Now tell me, what did you see?

The course, going along with its’ title, mainly focused on anatomy and art. This was accomplished through lectures, taught by some of the most accomplished professors in the world, as well as many visits to museums and historical sights. In order to understand the history of art in relationship to the city, a lesson on the Medici Family was necessary. The Medici was a ruling dynasty that were heavy patrons of the arts, and they are the reason why Florence still holds many of its’ treasures today.


The dome pictured is the Cappelle Medicee, where the members of the royal family of Florence rest.

We walked through the Capelle Medicee, where the members of the Medici family rest. Stunning art, and minor works by Michelangelo are present throughout, as well as stunning marble work. The Uffizi Art Gallery was another stop, housing many famous works such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. We were allowed to look at many of the sculptures in a critical eye in order to analyze anatomy, as well as to identify diseases, if applicable. Throughout our explorations of the city, we were also able to see many of the older hospitals that were in operation in the early days of the city, as well as learn what interesting practices they had. Back then, people thought washing your hands was a bad thing when it came to medicine! Yuck!

Anything Else?

The adventures didn’t stop there. The Museo della Speccola contained hundreds of wax anatomical preparations, as well as one of the largest collections of animal specimens I think I’ve ever seen. The Boboli Gardens, another possession of the Medici, gave us all a chance to unwind and relax among the trees and the fountains. Honestly, it gave Delaware Park a run for it’s money!


The beautiful Boboli Gardens, where the Medici took their time to relax.

 The Villa la Quiete was another stop, in order to learn some more about art history. The villa sits outside of Florence, and also once belonged to the royal family. The Botanical Gardens of Florence, one of the oldest in the entire world, was beautiful, and many plants that combat certain diseases are still grown there. A visit to Palazzo Vecchio was also in order, as we ventured up and down secret passageways in the style of Dan Brown’s novel, Inferno (It’s a great book, go read it!). We also had the privilege to visit a military pharmacy, where they manufacture many of their own products for medicinal use, as well as their own chocolate! Yum!

Yeah, I gotcha. That’s cool, but it sounds like work. Any time for fun at all?

Of course! The most amazing part of this trip was the fact that we got lots of free time to explore. Florence is an amazing city, with many things to do and see. Vendors line the streets, and numerous stores are scattered around. You can’t walk down a street without running into a gelato stand, and a family owned café. All of our evenings and weekends were free, and everything was accessible to us. We even had time to visit the nearby cities of Siena, Pisa (yes, I did take the famous tourist picture), Rome, and Venice.  Our bus passes were valid any time we wanted them, and eating was something we did a lot of. Despite the fact that we were in class, the lessons were fun and amazing as well!

Okay, you’ve convinced me. Is this happening again?

As far as I know, the plan is to do another trip to Florence next year. However, the fabulous Study Abroad department at DYC has plenty of programs to take in Florence, so, if you can’t wait a whole year, pay a visit to their office! The cost was very reasonable, and the experiences I have gained will last a lifetime.

New Friends?

Absolutely! We’re practically a family now. We went from strangers to having some great memories to share.

Overall, I’m so thrilled that I attend a college that was able to give me this experience. So many students I know wish they could go abroad to do something like this. DYC was helpful, cooperative, and wonderful in every way possible when organizing this trip. I’m so thankful for the opportunity, and experience!




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