Preparing to Travel Abroad for a Medical Experience

May 14, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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Sam loving rural Africa! Gap Medics offers pre medical students an incredible, life-changing opportunity to experience the world of medicine in an international setting.  You’ll have the chance to interact with diverse populations in an environment that will teach you to be flexible, compassionate, and analytical.  Here are a few helpful hints that will ease your preparations for an international medical experience:






Get your identification together.

You can’t travel abroad without the proper identification.  This means that you’ll need to obtain a passport and a state-issued ID.  The passport process can be time consuming and require you to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops. You may need to order a birth certificate and a social security card.  Leave plenty of time to obtain your identification.  You won’t be able to leave home without it!

Update your medical records.

It is critical that you make sure your health records are current and accurate. When you travel internationally, you will encounter a range of diseases, viruses, bacteria, and illnesses native to specific countries and regions.  Though many of these conditions are treatable, it’s best to engage in preventative care before you travel.  This prevention typically includes receiving a host of recommended vaccinations listed on the US Department of State website.  Additionally, you’ll want to have a full physical before you travel abroad.  You might have a medical problem and not know it, and the last thing you’ll want is to discover it in a foreign country where medical advances and high tech care may not be easily accessible.

Learn the language.

You probably won’t have enough lead time to become fluent in the language of the country to which you are traveling, but you’ll surely have time to learn some simple key phrases commonly spoken in your home away from home. While many programs, such as Gap Medics, are taught exclusively in English, learning a bit of the native language can be fun and will help you break the ice with your new friends and colleagues!

Pack light, but pack right.

You may find that you would like to do some sightseeing while abroad.  Expect to travel by foot regularly, and know that you’ll be carrying your own gear when you do.  Research the climate that you’ll be living in, and pack the right type of clothing in the right amounts.  You may or may not be able to do laundry during your travels abroad, and you’ll want to know ahead of time whether you’ll be able to wash your clothes or whether you’ll need to carry a larger wardrobe.  Think about toiletries as well.  What items are necessary and what items are nice but not needed? There are also restrictions on the sizes and quantities of incidentals that you can carry on an airplane.  Make sure you’ve done your research so that you’re not dumping your favorite shampoo at the airport terminal!

Keep your mind open to new possibilities.

Your medical experience abroad is likely to come with a few surprises.  Be prepared to be flexible and adaptable to your surroundings and the experiences that you encounter.  Rely on mentors within your program to help you navigate any difficulties that you have adjusting to your new environment.  Make the most of every opportunity – you just might find that working abroad in the medical field is the perfect career path for you!