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5 Reasons to Travel Abroad to Gain Pre-Med Clinical Experience (+ Tips for Traveling!)

As a pre-med, you’re likely looking for ways to gain shadowing hours and clinical experience while expanding your view of the field of medicine. While you can achieve all of this close to home or through virtual shadowing, the opportunity to travel abroad as a pre-med is a unique experience that will serve you well in a number of ways.

If you have the opportunity and resources, here are 5 reasons to travel abroad to gain pre-med clinical experience, plus some tips for traveling.

Why Travel Abroad for Clinical Experience

#1 – Variety of Programs & Experiences

There are a wide range of clinical travel programs and experiences depending on what you want to do. You can shadow a doctor, participate in rotations, attend teaching hospitals, and engage in social visits with local physicians. Students may also have the opportunity to participate in education and assessments on community members through routine health screenings and preventative care. Good programs will have a detailed itinerary ahead of registration so that you know exactly what types of work and experiences to expect. 

Clinical travel programs can range from two weeks to six months. This makes it possible to do a short trip over the summer or a school break, or a longer more immersive program if you choose to take a gap year to gain more experience. You will also be able to find a variety of locations for clinical travel, from remote villages to major cities, depending on your preference. If you’re able to participate in multiple programs, we recommend diversifying your locations to get the most from the experience. 

Finally, you will have the opportunity to shadow a variety of specialists and see many different procedures and surgeries performed. While some of these will be planned, you can also be assured that each trip will be unique based on patient care during the time of your trip. 

#2 – Different Medical Perspectives

Seeing how doctors treat and interact with patients in other parts of the world can be an eye-opening experience and make you a more well-rounded future physician. You’ll also see the differences between healthcare systems abroad and in the United States. In countries with private and public systems, similar to the U.S., you may witness the same disparities with the quality of care between wealthy and low-income patients. You may see universal healthcare systems in other countries utterly over-taxed and failing, or thriving. 

All of this will broaden your own opinions about the best way to provide care to patients, and hopefully, you may be able to apply your experiences to improving the healthcare systems at home or abroad in the future. 

#3 – Fully Immersive Experience

Like previously mentioned, you can get clinical experience close to home, or even online if you’re in a remote location. But when you travel abroad, you are fully immersed in the experience. You don’t have college coursework or a job to go to. You’re not distracted by friends or activities on campus. You are able to fully commit to the doctors, patients, and your peers on the trip to learn as much as you can in the time you’re given. 

#4 – Appreciation for Different Cultures

In any clinical travel program, there is going to be down time for sightseeing and learning about the local culture. Even when meals are provided, they will likely be in the traditional style of the country you’re visiting. It’s a great opportunity to leave western culture behind, expand your horizons, and really appreciate the people, language, food, and history of the country you’re visiting. Additionally, you’ll be able to work on learning a new language or improving one you already speak, which will make you more accessible to more patients as a future physician. 

#5 – Strengthen Your Application

International travel to gain clinical experience is not a requirement for any medical school, but it can help support your commitment to a career in medicine and to helping others. When combined with clinical experiences, volunteering, and other pre-med activities you participate in back home, traveling abroad can help strengthen your application when it’s time to apply to medical school. 

While you should never participate in clinical travel abroad solely to make your med school application better, you should include it if it was a genuinely transformative experience that you will be able to talk about and show how it fueled your passion for medicine. 

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Tips for Traveling Abroad

Any time you’re traveling internationally, it’s important to research the country’s travel requirements and recommendations. A good clinical travel program will provide you with these details well in advance of the trip.

Generally, you will need to know:

Do I need a passport? 

Yes, you need a valid passport when traveling outside of the United States. For a new adult passport book, there is a $110 application fee and a $35 execution fee. 

If you already have a passport, it needs to be valid for at least another 6 months from the date of arrival in the country you’re visiting. If it is not, renew it ASAP so that it returns to you prior to the trip. While there is typically an 8-week turnaround, due to COVID-19, passport processing is taking longer than normal. You could expect delays from anywhere between 4 and 6 months.

Do I need a visa?

This depends on the country you’re visiting. Some countries allow visa-free visitation for 30, 60 or 90 days. Others require visitors to obtain a visa upon arrival, while still others require application for a visa ahead of time. 

The program director for your trip should provide this information and help you through the process if you need to apply in advance. As with passports, if you need to apply for a visa give yourself ample time to adjust for longer processing time. 

Do I need any new vaccinations?

Most countries are now requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccination for international travel. Additionally, you should be up to date on your routine vaccinations. Depending on what country you are traveling to, you may be required to get additional vaccines. For example, the yellow fever vaccine may be required for travel to certain parts of Africa and South America. 

Again, the trip’s program director should be able to provide vaccine information. You should also see your regular doctor before the trip and possibly even a travel doctor to assess the risk and administer appropriate vaccinations. 

Do I need travel insurance?

Yes, you should always purchase travel insurance to protect yourself when traveling abroad. Some programs will even require it and coordinate it through an insurance provider to make it easy for you to obtain. You should also consider purchasing tuition insurance for this portion of your education experience in the event something happens and you are unable to attend the trip.

What should I pack?

The program will provide you with a comprehensive packing list. You should plan to pack all of the essentials, plus specific items depending on where you’re traveling to and the accommodations provided. If you bring any personal appliances, plan to bring a plug adapter and power converter any time you’re traveling outside of the United States. 

Money, communication, travel, and accommodations

You will want to find out about the local currency, if you will be able to exchange U.S. dollars upon arrival, and if your ATM/credit cards will be accepted in the country you’re visiting. You’ll also want to ask about cell phone coverage or other forms of communication, particularly if you’re visiting a remote area. Most programs will coordinate travel and accommodations, but if you have free time you will need to know how to set this up on your own. Finally, for most clinical travel programs, double occupancy rooms are the norm. You will be paired with a roommate and introduced ahead of the trip. If you prefer a single room, additional fees will apply.

Register for the MedSchoolCoach Ultimate Med Immersion

MedSchoolCoach takes pre-med students around the world as part of its once-in-a-lifetime Ultimate Med Immersion experiences. Students will earn 40 hours of shadowing experience, learn from leading physicians, observe and scrub into surgeries, and explore the unique cultures and healthcare systems of other countries. 

Learn more about the latest Ultimate Med Immersion trip and discover the benefits of traveling abroad with MedSchoolCoach to gain valuable pre-med clinical experience. 

Learn About the MedSchoolCoach Ultimate Med Immersion

Amber Kelm

Amber is a writer for ProspectiveDoctor.com. She has more than 15 years' experience writing well-researched, engaging content that helps students achieve their dream of becoming a physician.

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