Many pre-heath students will end up contemplating, at some point, the possibility of participating in short term health-related volunteer experiences abroad either for spring break or perhaps during the summer. Although participation in an international service trip is a chance to do some good while seeing health, medicine and life from a new perspective, health profession schools encourage clinical exposure not engagement in hands-on procedures. In any case, it will be important to balance short-term international service trips with sustained involvement with local organizations here in the U.S. since one week on an alternative spring break is no replacement for one or more semesters spent volunteering in a local free clinic, hospital, hospice, or nursing home.
Direct participation in medical or dental treatment, dispensing of medications, etc. without appropriate supervision, training, or careful attention to local laws should be avoided. Engaging in clinical, hands-on activities for which no appropriate training or supervision is provided may also jeopardize your candidacy at health profession schools since your maturity, ethics, and judgment will be questioned.
Before you head off to gain "clinical experience" abroad, please:
- Refer to the following guidelines, developed by the American Association of Medical Colleges and the American Dental Education Association for providing patient care outside of the US.
- Go over these Considerations for Serving Ethically, developed by the University of Kansas, as you evaluate possible trips.
- Consider taking this free online workshop--GAPS, sponsored by the University of Minnesota, which will offer you tools and advice for how to get the most of your experience abroad, without stepping beyond your qualifications and expertise.
If you have already participated in such trips and now are wondering whether or how you should list those clinical activities abroad in your applications, these tips may come in handy.