"Those who are fortunate enough to participate in international educational activities during their medical training become better physicians for having done so."
There has been significant growth in both the interest and participation in global health programs recently according to the Journal of Graduate Medical Education, June 2012. U.S. medical trainees are seeking out opportunities to develop as global citizens. Academic institutions are responding by incorporating the topic of global health into lectures, discussions and with local multicultural communities. However, medical students are increasingly demanding opportunities to go abroad and participate in global health training, often through experiences in developing countries.
As noted in the Virtual Mentor, a publication of the American Medical Association,
Immigration and globalization have linked world populations geographically, economically and socially, creating multicultural communities at local and global levels. Physicians must therefore be prepared to serve patients who differ from them in ethnicity, language, education, socioeconomic status and cultural beliefs and norms. Sensitivity to cultural differences helps physicians communicate more effectively with patients from diverse backgrounds and, thus, provide better care for them. International experiences, especially in developing countries where differences between patients and physicians are quite extreme, are certain to pose communication problems that force physicians to learn to adapt. Hence these experiences, while challenging, are optimal for teaching future physicians to communicate successfully with and care for underserved multicultural populations.
Students gain knowledge from other healthcare systems and learn from the healthcare staffs who manage them. Medical students working in developing nations can greatly enhance their clinical skills in a low resource setting, becoming better equipped to adapt to change and bring about innovation. For many it can help identify future career paths and leave them with a feeling that they have made a significant contribution to the global health community.
Many studies conducted over the past decades have examined short and long term effects of international experiences on medical students, trainees and physicians. By and large the outcomes point to deep and lasting benefits for the participants.
From Developing Residency Training in Global Health: A Guidebook by Global Health Education Consortium, medical trainees in a three to six week program abroad scored significantly higher in the preventive medicine/public health sections of the USMLE board exam than a control group. A study at the University of Massachusetts examined medical students in a number of international health programs all involving cultural immersion. Participants had higher levels of cultural understanding overall compared to nonparticipants and reached higher levels of cultural competence. International experiences promote cultural competence among medical students and physicians and raise it to new levels. Cultural competence centers on the concepts of having, or the effort to gain, the skills that enable a medical professional to work effectively within a patient’s or community’s cultural context. As populations in North American become more and more diverse, having the clinical and language skills in place, sensitiviey to cultural and socioeconomic factores and awareness of the role of communication with patients of other cultures becomes increasing critical.
In a recent article, How Studying or Working Abroad Makes You Smarter, published by Time Magazine, William Maddux, associate professor at INSEAD stated, “People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity, our research suggests." The research reported in this article is said to demonstrate that, "that exposure to multiple cultures in and of itself can enhance creativity." And that, " Multicultural experience was positively related to both creative performance (insight learning, remote association, and idea generation) and creativity-supporting cognitive processes (retrieval of unconventional knowledge, recruitment of ideas from unfamiliar cultures for creative idea expansion."
Many of the newly established international programs are post-graduate, resident level opportunities. However, interns commonly report barriers such as scheduling and financial concerns as reasons they will not pursue a global health program. Beginning ones medical education abroad at a point when scheduling and financial aspects are incorporated would be a way to gain this rich experience without a disruption of timelines or as an added financial burden. Add to this the benefit of incorporating the experience as differentiator to ones residency application and interview discussions.
Going abroad for a portion of your four year MD program offers a valuable learning opportunity. Working with limited resources, treating conditions not seen near home and adapting to a new clinical environment are just some of the benefits. This experience enables you to put global health concepts into practice. Expect adventure, be open to a different pace, culture and way of thinking. Open your eyes to what you have the opportunity to learn and how the experience will change you… for the better.
Ready to begin your own global medical experience abroad?