You’ve volunteered. You get good grades. You’ve shadowed doctors. You’ve done everything you can to be a great student and ideal candidate for professional schooling. What more can you do to make yourself stand out from the crowd? For starters, you can participate in an international internship and shadow doctors in another country! Here are a few ways in which adding an international component adds value to what you are already doing:
Obtain Transferrable Medical Experience
Whether or not a program offers credit, participating in a pre-health internship abroad will be a unique experience that will give you plenty of subject matter to talk about in interviews. You will be able to see what life is like for a foreign doctor, and sometimes you may be able to observe more than you may see shadowing doctors back in your home country, such as observing a number of surgeries firsthand. Having this opportunity is a great way to get more direct observation experience outside of the classroom.
Gain Perspective on International Healthcare
It is important to understand your own country’s healthcare system, but an international experience will give you a much more well-rounded view of healthcare. You will be able to gain insight into what works and doesn’t work, and apply that knowledge to your future career. In the rapidly changing field of healthcare, this knowledge can be useful and will highlight your valuable global mindset.
Meet Other Pre-Health Students from different backgrounds, universities, and parts of the country and the world
When participating in an internship abroad program, you will likely be working closely with many other pre-health students. This is a great opportunity to meet new friends, network, and stay connected to others that you may be working with in the future. You may even meet people that you will stay friends with for years to come!
Expand Your Comfort Zone
Going abroad can seem intimidating, and you may feel uncomfortable to have to figure out your way around in a foreign country. Stepping outside of your comfort zone to overcome language barriers and learn how to navigate your way around will be a challenge, but in the end it will be an encouragement to take on even larger challenges (such as nailing that big interview!).
Aside from being in a foreign country, you will also be shadowing doctors that may not speak perfect English. This, of course, is a major barrier that you must overcome. It will take extra effort to understand the interactions between doctors and patients when they are not carried out in your native language, and you may even have to talk to the doctor or another hospital staff member afterwards to understand completely. Seeing that you have been able to take on this challenge can show your strong communication skills and hard-working attitude.
Learn a New Language
You may be surprised at how much of the language you will pick up just from being immersed in a foreign setting. Many locations may offer the option for you to participate in classes or a language exchange to learn the language of your host country. Having some knowledge and understanding of another language is a great skill set that can be useful when working in a hospital or any healthcare setting, when you may have the opportunity to use this language to communicate with diverse patients.
Find the Right Field for You
When you participate in an internship program abroad, you are able to see what it is like if you were to pursue your chosen healthcare career path, or gain perspective on a specialty you may not have considered. You may find that you absolutely love your choice and you become even more enthused about pursuing your dream in healthcare. Even if you did not come to enjoy the field you were pursuing, interning and shadowing is a way to identify your preferences before you begin working, and you still get some travel experience out of it!
Whether you go abroad for a week, a few months, or longer, there are countless benefits you will gain from your international experience as a pre-health student. In addition to personal growth, international experience will further prepare you to present yourself as the ideal candidate for your desired job or professional school. In addition to the highlights in this article, there are numerous other advantages to having international experience that will continue to benefit you long into the future.
Note that if you are a student interning in a hospital, even as part of a foreign healthcare system, it is important that you do not do anything while in the hospital that you are not allowed to do in the United States. Hospital internships should involve only observing doctors and not practicing any medicine. Violating these standards, regardless of the country where you are located when doing so, will only hurt your medical school application. The safest thing is only to observe. If you are at an early stage of your health professions education you should focus on observation; this way your international experience can be a strong step toward making you a better candidate and a better healthcare professional—while having a lot of fun exploring another country along the way.
Marissa Sutera is the Admissions Coordinator at the Atlantis Project, a leading education abroad provider focused on European hospital internship programs for pre-health students. Atlantis Project participants (known as Atlantis Fellows) shadow doctors in local hospitals in the Azores Islands (Portugal) and the Canary Islands (Spain).