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Medical Electives Abroad

Medical electives abroad are a way for you as a medical student to challenge yourself and deepen your practice. Going abroad not only allows you to experience a different country and culture but a different type of health care system. You will experience illnesses and diseases that are no longer prevalent or fatal in developing countries such as tuberculosis and polio but are still found in other countries. A medical elective abroad allows you to be on the front lines of public health and really make a difference.

As a medical student you have chosen your profession with the basic premise of doing good and helping others. With long work hours, years of training and mountains of student debt medical school is not an easy profession to choose. Choosing a medical elective abroad is a great way to remind yourself of all the good you can do as a doctor and inspire your medical career. You can experience a different way of providing health care while giving back to others in other countries.
Medical care is an ever changing sea of laws and technology. Sometimes it is hard to see past that and get to patient care, the reason that you got into medicine in the first place. Going to another country to work in their health care system you will often experience a setting that you are not familiar with. There might be little medical technology or access to few medications. The populations you serve may be uneducated about their health care needs and you will have a unique opportunity to try and educate them on their health.

Foreign Diseases

Global health care is changing. As the world becomes a smaller place with international air travel, diseases are able to spread more easily to places they have not been seen before. Training abroad will give you an advantage as you will have the opportunity to treat and study illnesses first hand that are not as prevalent in developing countries.

There have been several outbreaks of measles in the US over the last few years. One of the challenges in diagnosing it is that doctors have not seen it for so many years and often do not recognize the symptoms immediately. This can lead to more exposure to others and spread of the disease. The benefits of experiencing a medical elective abroad is that you will have a better chance at treating some of these illness that are still commonly found in developing countries. When you return to your home practice you may be the expert on measles or some other illness that you learned about while overseas.

People are traveling and relocating all over the world. In major city hospitals it is not uncommon to treat patients that have newly immigrated from a rural areas of a developing country. Your experiences abroad will make you a more prepared practitioner and you will be able to provide better care to your patients. A medical elective abroad will give you a step up in your medical practice as you will be more familiar with treating illnesses that your colleagues might have no experience with.


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Public Health

Public health in developing countries is extremely important. By studying a medical elective abroad you will be providing valuable education to the people of the country about preventative health as well as health promotion. With the recent Ebola epidemic in Africa we have seen how important health education is in preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Health care workers have been on the front lines educating communities about simple steps to protect themselves from illness such as hand washing and recognizing the early signs and symptoms of Ebola. In poor and developing countries public health is an essential tool to educate communities about health and wellness. You would have the opportunity to experience programs working on important public health initiatives.

Depending on the country you choose your elective in you could be working to provide HIV education, use of mosquito nets to prevent malaria, vaccinations to eradicate illnesses such as polio as well as countless other projects. You can make a real difference in the future of a country and its people just by providing education. Your experiences in your medical elective abroad have the capacity to make a real difference in the overall health care of a country.

Cultural Care

Going overseas for a medical elective abroad you will also be able to experience a new culture. You will learn a new language, be immersed in a culture that might be very different than the one you are used to. You will also broaden your perspective on different health care systems and models. If you are working in a more rural setting you will have the chance to be a part of a community and traditions that you might not be able to experience otherwise.

Many cultures have different traditions, ideas and rituals around illnesses and diseases. In health care you are taught to provide culturally competent care to your patients. Being immersed in another culture during your medical elective abroad will allow you to really begin to understand another culture. This will help you to become a more thoughtful practitioner. By learning the medical traditions of the culture you are studying in during your elective you will be able to apply this to your interactions with other culture when you are back at your home hospital. Your experiences abroad will make you a more open to the cultural differences of your patients and you will be better able to embrace them in your health care practice.


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Different Types of Programs

There are a variety of medical elective abroad programs that can provide a diversity in experiences, providing care at a state of the art hospital in South America, Africa or India or providing care in small rural villages of these same countries. Some programs combine the two so that you can get a full and rich experience. There are pros and cons to both type of medical elective experiences and it is important for you to research and enroll in the program that is the best fit for you. Being in a rural area you might not have access to cutting edge medical equipment but you will have the opportunity to be a part of a community and provide a valuable service to people that may not have the ability to get medical care on a regular basis. Being in a big city you might not get the experience of being a part of a developing community but you will have access to medical technology.

Whatever type of experience you choose you will be using your skills and knowledge to benefit others. Your experiences abroad will only only effect you and your medical practice but it will benefit the patients that you care for. A medical elective abroad is a great experience for your personal practice no matter where you choose to go. You will grow as a person and a health care provider. Your experiences abroad will make you a better doctor because you have challenges yourself to learn about a different culture and its healthcare.

Apply now to our medical electives program in Latin America! We offer programs in all areas of medicine including Accident & Emergency, General Surgery, Pediatrics, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Clinical Medicine and Psychiatry.


Photo 1. based on Medical/Surgical Operative Photography, by Phalinn Ooi, CC BY 2.0

Photo 2. based on NEC-Medical-137, by NEC Corporation of America, CC BY 2.0

Photo 3. The Intern Group

Photos and blog by Kiley Griffin

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The International Internships Blog is a collaboration by The Intern Group staff, alumni and current participants to give you career advice & tips, program information, & so much more!