Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I am a family physician by training and I have further certification in hospital medicine as well as palliative care. I’m also currently the Executive Director of Child Family Health International (CFHI) which is an organization I’ve been working with for almost a decade. CFHI is an award-winning organization that offers graduate, undergraduate, and post-graduate students the opportunity to gain experiences abroad and expand their understanding of health care in different parts of the world as they pursue their careers in medicine.
Could you define what a global health experience is?
A “global health experience” is any experience in a lower-resource setting or a setting where health disparities are particularly evident. These experiences can be in clinical settings, like hospitals, or they can take place in public health settings, such as participation in a vaccination campaign. They can also be in a political setting, like a country’s Ministry of Health or a nongovernmental organization that’s working in health policy or other initiatives. These experiences can be in our own backyard or across the world.
Students are always looking for ways to set themselves apart on medical school applications. Is international experience a plus?
Thoughtful and intentional international experience can be a plus, but poorly thought out or outdated experiences can actually be a negative. Medical schools are becoming increasingly cautious about accepting students who have provided care to patients without proper training in global health settings, as it is unethical and can endanger patients. It’s important for students to know how to select the right global health opportunity.
What should students be asking themselves when considering a global health experience?
It’s important to do your homework. Students should reflect on the fact that being a clinician-in-training means not overstepping your level of training, misrepresenting who you are to the patients, or doing things that you aren’t sanctioned or licensed to do. You want to avoid experiences where you are not appropriately supervised.
How do students know which kinds of international experiences they should avoid?
The number one red flag that is easy to spot is if an organization states that students are going to change health or wellness in a short period of time, especially when they’re going to a community outside of the United States. The programs may make claims such as, “You’ll be saving people’s lives!” It’s important for students to watch out for this type of messaging because the marketing is very much aligned with the good intentions of premedical students and can prey on them. Another red flag is if the program or opportunity states you will be setting up a pop-up clinic, because those can actually detract patients from an already-existing health center or from health workers that have been serving their community for years.
Are there any resources that could be helpful to students looking to have a global health experience?
The Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety online workshop is a great free resource. It can help walk premed students through the vetting process of a service they might be interested in.
Pictured above: CFHI program participant from Northeastern University with hospital preceptors in Bolivia.