Last Updated on October 17, 2023 by Laura Turner
We previously discussed how study abroad opportunities could give future physicians better insights into global health challenges. Many health professions programs are specifically recruiting students who see their purpose as physicians as being global health changemakers. If you have a strong passion for global health, what are some things you can do to be a desirable applicant for these programs? Let’s break down some key application tips to show your global health mission.
Consider a Bachelor’s in Global or Community Health
A global or community health bachelor’s degree provides an interdisciplinary foundation to evaluate healthcare systems, public health, public policy, and sociological factors that affect the health of populations. Students can apply their learning to many aspects of public health, including health education and promotion, program planning, and epidemiological studies to address complex behavioral, cultural, and social problems at the local, state, and national levels.
Undergraduate programs recognize the value of this knowledge for those pursuing health professional careers, including nursing, medicine, and dentistry. In some cases (George Mason University, Kent State University, Northwestern, UC Santa Cruz), a health science concentration curriculum can be designed to fulfill prehealth requirements while completing the bachelor’s degree in community health. Most programs were set up by the early 2000s, so you should be able to connect with alumni working in the field as clinicians or public health officers.
Capstones, Internships, and Field Studies
Global and community health students generally complete a capstone or scholarly project before finishing their undergraduate or graduate degrees. These students should coordinate with their academic advisors, faculty mentors, and study abroad administrators to properly set up these opportunities without interfering with the graduation timeline. For prehealth students, consideration should also be placed on completing biomedical science courses and prerequisites and scheduling preparation time for high-stakes exams like the MCAT or DAT.
Many universities work with established study-abroad educational programs to work out details such as tuition, financial aid, travel insurance, and student security. These programs may also facilitate getting documents like visas to ensure smooth travel and living arrangements away from the United States. Others may have in-house staff that coordinates with the registrar and academic affairs. These university offices and some professional societies also sponsor internships to support public health students. These spots may be competitive, require support from one’s faculty, and could involve interviews.
The Centers for Disease Control also lists short-term internships run for undergraduate public health students. Applications are often open beginning in the fall.
Many health professional associations also schedule time for week-long mission trips to give applicants a taste of global health challenges. Other health professionals often organize mission trips by faith-centered organizations (CMDA Global Health Outreach, IMANA Medical Relief, Shalom Corps/International Volunteer HQ). Other organizations have a more secular identity, like Global Brigades and Remote Area Medical USA. Professional associations like the American Dental Association may have a calendar of international short-term opportunities, while state dental associations run “Missions of Mercy” clinics within their state year-round. These organizations often call for volunteer professionals and health professions students for local missions, and many will work closely with health professions schools to host overseas missions.
Preprofessional students in overseas missions should be aware of their observational responsibilities and not directly partake in invasive procedures that licensed and insured professionals should perform. In 2010, ADEA issued a policy statement outlining these expectations (PDF) for students and sponsoring programs, and any preprofessional student should observe these guidelines to avoid being exploited or placed in serious liability.
Demonstrating Competencies and Global Health Mission Focus in Your Application
Cultural competency, social skills, and your capacity for improvement benefit from a solid global health premedical experience. Through exposure to different societies, you can gain better appreciation and respect for diversity, build awareness of others’ needs respectfully, and consider sustainable solutions.
In their “most meaningful experience” essays (or similar essay/interview prompts), global health students can talk about their experience as a “minority” and express the challenges of adapting to a less familiar community, food, laws, and language. By reflecting on these insights with humility and wonder, applicants can bear witness to that community’s needs for a future learning community of peers and faculty.
Global health challenges also require health providers from multiple disciplines. Applicants pursuing a global health mission should look for interprofessional service-learning opportunities fostering teamwork among doctors, dentists, nurses, veterinarians, optometrists, and pharmacists (for example, Ohio State University and University of Southern California). While most programs will list the countries where clinical training is available, students should look for administrative offices that help with student/resident insurance, vaccinations, travel, and research support (Albert Einstein School of Medicine, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine). Some pharmacy schools support international fourth-year Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPE) and leadership training. Additionally, some dental schools help students become global oral health advocates. Global research or clinical opportunities also exist in physical therapy (Northwestern), optometry (Incarnate Word), and veterinary medicine (Washington State University).
Many professional school global health programs may ask applicants for a separate essay that gauges their readiness and motivation. The program faculty likely read these essays after a candidate has been invited to interview and selected by the admissions committee for an offer. Strong candidates should reach out to these faculty, current students, and recent alumni before and during the application process to gauge fit and student support. Some schools let their students give updates on summer international experiences; check out blogs from McGovern/UT Health Houston, UC San Diego, and Indiana University to envision your future as a student or future professional in global health.
Bailey LC, DiPietro Mager NA. Global Health Education in Doctor of Pharmacy Programs. Am J Pharm Educ. 2016;80(4):71. doi:10.5688/ajpe80471
Seminario AL, Chen B, Liu J, Seymour B. Integrating Global Health Within Dental Education: Inter-University Collaboration for Scaling Up a Pilot Curriculum. Ann Glob Health. 2020;86(1):113. Published 2020 Sep 3. doi:10.5334/aogh.3024
Emil Chuck, Ph.D., is Director of Advising Services for the Health Professional Student Association. He brings over 15 years of experience as a health professions advisor and an admissions professional for medical, dental, and other health professions programs. In this role for HPSA, he looks forward to continuing to play a role for the next generation of diverse healthcare providers to gain confidence in themselves and to be successful members of the inter-professional healthcare community.
Previously, he served as Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Director of Admissions at the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, and as a Pre-Health Professions Advisor at George Mason University.
Dr. Chuck serves an expert resource on admissions and has been quoted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).