How (and Why) to Study Abroad as a Medical & Health Student

Learn what studying overseas can do for your health career, get advice for choosing a program, explore scholarships and other financing options, and access a comprehensive list of “must-do’s” before you begin your adventure abroad.

It might be your roommate, your best friend, your significant other. They tell you about studying abroad in Florence or Madrid, how they gained 20 pounds from the gelato alone or how they learned to siesta after plates and plates of the best paella they’ve ever had. It all sounds amazing, and now you’re convinced that you need to study abroad, too. But should food and fun drive such a big decision, or should something else?

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things of foreign cultures, but if you’re in the medical and healthcare field, studying abroad means opportunity: the chance to develop language skills to communicate better with patients, to learn about customs that can turn a nervous patient into a comfortable one, and to create a network of students and professionals in other countries who can help you grow both personally and professionally. And with such a massive opportunity at your fingertips, you need to plan carefully.

The Value of Studying Abroad

Studying abroad diversifies a medical or health student’s experience by exposing them to professional environments in new healthcare systems. By working with medical and health professionals, patients, and other students abroad, U.S. students can gain a valuable understanding of culturally driven norms, multicultural medical environments, and build upon their existing skill set.

Training and life experience abroad can also bolster young professionals’ resumes. According to a study conducted in 2019 by the Institute for International Education of Students, 64% of employers reported that international educational experiences make students more attractive job candidates. In the table that follows, we offer a list of benefits that focus on the education, professional, personal, and cultural aspects of studying in the health and medical fields outside of the U.S.

Educational

  • Experience different educational delivery styles: Medical students abroad may be able to secure new research or volunteer opportunities. Many learners take advantage of shadowing opportunities that expose them to healthcare processes in a medical system that is structured differently than the U.S.
  • Grad school application booster: A student’s experience abroad lets a college or university admissions team that the applicant is interested in and capable of expanding their horizons. Graduate school often works well for independent students who are open to new ideas and generally curious about the world. A successful tenure abroad can help to highlight these characteristics for a prospective student.
  • Encounter challenges: One certainty is that studying abroad presents medical and health students with new scenarios and challenges. Both academically and professionally, a study abroad program forces students to adjust to their surroundings, learn small-group and profession-wide norms for professionals in this area of the world, and more.
  • Hands-on experience: While medical and health students in the U.S. enjoy hands-on training in domestic scenarios, study abroad programs place learners in new environments with different equipment, daily processes, and types of patients. Students benefit greatly from hands-on learning outside of their comfort zones.

Professional

  • Resume booster: Employers look favorably upon a prospective employee’s time abroad because it shows that the applicant will go the extra mile to challenge themselves and learn something new. Studying overseas is challenging on personal, academic, social, and cultural levels and demands that students rise to the occasion to get the most out of those experiences. Employers generally value these characteristics, especially for new hires.
  • Learn how to interact with professionals from different cultural backgrounds: students around the world are studying for medical and health degrees outside of the U.S. Whether a professional is trained in New York City, Milan, Madrid, or Oslo, they are all medical or health professionals and equal colleagues. With increasingly connected business- and health-related ventures, today’s young students can benefit from interactions with students and professionals from other cultural backgrounds.
  • Build your network: Being able to interact and work with students and professionals from other parts of the world can often allow young students to build their professional networks exponentially. As with professionals in most lines of work, workers in the medical and health field can benefit substantially from personal and professional connections both domestically and abroad.

Personal

  • Growth and independence: A recent study conducted by the Institute for International Education of Students reports that 95% of students who studied abroad felt that the experience helped them mature and positively impacted their general worldview. The same study also reveals that 98% of these students better understood their own cultural backgrounds and biases after studying abroad.
  • Develop adaptation skills: Studying abroad increases students’ adaptability in professional settings as well as social scenarios. As shown by folklorists and other academics who study social interaction, being able to adapt to new situations, sometimes referred to as social or linguistic code switching, is key to successful and meaningful participation in today’s ever-growing multicultural world.
  • Meet new people/friends: When studying abroad, medical and health students also develop personal relationships that enrich their daily lives. More than half of students who study abroad continued to maintain friendships they made while outside the U.S.
  • Grow confident in your field: By engaging with diverse professional and social situations abroad, learners typically experience an increase in their self-confidence and general sense of comfort. Students who experience new educational and social scenarios reduce the number of unpredictable scenarios both in and outside of their work.

Cultural

  • Learn/improve a foreign language: While this may be one of the more obvious advantages to studying abroad, it is also one of the most useful skills for young professionals in today’s job market. Bilingual or multilingual professionals are in high demand, and full immersion in a new cultural scenario is often the best learning scenario for language acquisition.
  • Cross-cultural exposure leads to cultural competence: While a student’s time abroad take place over a short time, such as 6-12 months, it offers them unique opportunities to experience a new cultural climate. Every step toward cultural competence, no matter how limited, is beneficial in today’s increasingly connected and diverse cultural landscape.
  • Medical and health students who can relate to their colleagues, clients, or patients on deeper levels often enjoy their work and have positive lasting effects on those around them.

In the sections above, we covered some of the intangible benefits medical and health students can gain from education abroad. Below, we consider some career paths commonly taken by medical and health students and the ways in which a study abroad experience positively impacts a student’s trajectory.

Gaining a Professional Edge

For some medical and health fields, such as global health, experience abroad is essential to training. In other career paths, medical and health students may learn skills that can set them apart from others, making them a unique applicant and a multifaceted, adaptable professional for hire. Language skills, cultural sensitivity, constantly facing new situations, and working with diverse populations all can be experienced overseas and applied to healthcare situations back home. Here’s a more detailed look at some of the tools that medical and health students can develop while studying outside the U.S.

Language Development for the Workplace

Medical and health professionals need top-notch communication skills to provide the best care and service to patients and clients. Additionally, professionals at all levels, from administration and management positions to support staff and assistants, depend on clear communication between colleagues to carry out daily processes and business operations. Students who study abroad have a great opportunity to acquire and develop these skills, especially when treating or working with non-native English speakers, or those who speak no English at all.

Today’s top employers understand the value of communication in healthcare and often seek prospective employees that have bi- or multi-lingual abilities. A study abroad program can offer students some of the best environments to learn second languages in conversational contexts.

team-work

Cultural Sensitivity for the Workplace

Patients in the U.S. come from a variety of races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. While you may think all patients should be treated the same in a medical and health environment, certain accommodations for some can lead to improved patient experiences and outcomes. For example, a Muslim patient may feel more comfortable in a room that faces Mecca, and a Jewish patient may need access to various kosher food options. Of course, students can learn these things while studying and working in the United States, but immersion in cultures abroad can make students more skilled in recognizing and applying patient needs to care experiences.

growth

Increased Career Opportunities

By working directly with medical or health colleagues and professionals in face-to-face contexts, students can increase the number of employment options available to them when they enter the job market. Young professionals today can gain an enormous edge by developing an international network, especially with individuals with whom they have worked in-person.


Some of today’s health-related careers and how each benefits from studying and working abroad.

Global Health

Study Abroad Benefits

Global health students often focus on health challenges and solutions on a more macro scale. This can include biostatistics, epidemiology, and health systems in developing countries. In a global or international public health degree program, studying abroad gives students an opportunity for real-world, in-person experience that can inform research and learn how local challenges can shape larger-scale healthcare issues.

Doctor

Study Abroad Benefits

Pre-med students who study abroad can gain valuable experience in healthcare internships or service-learning opportunities. Some medical students study abroad to gain multicultural experience, bolster their resume, and avoid burning out during their tenure in medical school. When applying for jobs, doctors with study abroad experience are more likely to be eligible for positions with non-traditional roles or tasks, challenging patients or community dynamics, or that require a culturally sensitive healthcare professional.

Nurse

Study Abroad Benefits

Nursing students who study abroad can improve their cultural competence, language skills, and understanding of global health issues. They can also learn how to better navigate new or foreign healthcare systems. Upon entering the job market, nursing professionals with these skills in hand may be able to take on more complex roles in the healthcare system in the U.S. or abroad.

Healthcare Administration

Study Abroad Benefits

For learners studying healthcare administration, international internships at non-governmental organizations, governmental organizations such as the United Nations, and international development organizations can round out a young professional’s resume and open numerous doors to full-time employment. This may be most evident in developing countries where healthcare systems may still be structurally young.

Medical Research

Veterinary

Massage Therapy

Medical Translator

Public Health

Aid Worker

Dental Hygienists

Nutritionist

How to Choose a Study Abroad Program

While the number of study abroad programs grows each year, this doesn’t mean it’s easier for students to find the best one for them. They need to do extensive research, create a list of potential candidates, identify the pros and cons of each, and see how everything meshes with their educational and career goals. Easier said than done. If this sounds like you, here’s what you need to know if you have study abroad on your to-do list.

1

Research Program Basics

A study abroad program may sound great on the surface, but if the credits you earn abroad won’t apply to your degree, it’s all for not. Before you think about where you want to go and when you want to get there, research the following points for EACH study abroad program you’re considering.

Programmatic licensure or accreditation

Medical and health students interested in studying abroad can rest assured that a program will be worth their time if associated school, institution, or organization possesses licensure or accreditation from a reputable body. One of the ways that students can ensure that they are working with a credible entity is to follow the guidance of advisors and professors at their schools.

University partnership

Many colleges and universities maintain partnerships with other institutions around the globe. One of the primary reasons for these connections is to provide students with international learning experiences. Students should contact their home department or, if available, their school’s department of international studies for more information.

Transferable credits

Most students wish to obtain transferable credits while studying abroad. Learners should check with their academic department and school registrar before taking the leap into a program abroad.

Total cost

Financial aid options

Specialty or partnership

2

Pick Your Style and Duration

Study abroad for medical and health students exists in several forms. A student’s choice of a certain program type depends on things such as intended time commitment, available funding, and desired location. In the list that follows, we offer detailed descriptions of each applicable study abroad scenario for medical and health students and include important factors to consider for each.

Semester/Year

For many medical and health students, a one semester or full-year study abroad program is an excellent choice. In these scenarios, students have ample time to take advantage of the resources available to them, both academically and culturally. Full-year students can spend more time learning essential skills for their careers and developing professional relationships with medical or health professionals. An advanced skill set and expansive professional network often lead to valuable career options upon graduation. The University College in Dublin, Ireland, offers year-long study abroad programs for learners in the health sciences, nutrition, and nursing.

Summer/Winter

The duration of the summer/winter semester study abroad program can be appealing because of its two- to three-month commitment. Among the shorter tenures available to medical and health students, the summer/winter option gives students enough time to get a full experience, both academically and personally, while abroad. These sessions are also less of a financial and time commitment than other arrangements and keep learners from missing full semesters of school work at home. Czech Hospital Placements offers summer opportunities for medical and health students in the Czech Republic.

E-Learning/Online

Some colleges and universities in other countries offer distance students in the U.S. to take classes online, with no in-person obligations. Online study abroad programs may not be available for all medical and health students, especially for those interested in professions that require hands-on training. Online study abroad programs for careers in health studies are more likely to exist than those focused on medicine, but it depends on the program and the student’s interests. The duration of online study abroad programs varies and can last several weeks or months at a time. Located in the European Union, the College of Remote and Offshore Medicine Foundation offers online training and resources for medical students. The college also features operational locations in Africa and Asia.

Volunteer

Internship

Intersession

Exchange

3

Choose Your Destination Carefully

Choosing a destination for a study abroad program is exciting and challenging. It can be a chance to study in your dream location, but that may not be what’s best for your education and career. For example, if you have an interest in joining the medical community’s fight against HIV/AIDS, it probably makes to choose a location where HIV/AIDS is prevalent, and not one based on weather or local cuisine. The following list breaks down several types of study abroad locations and how each can move your education or career forward.

Developed nation

Rural environment

Study abroad programs in rural communities often allow students to play an important role by providing care, instruction, or resources to remote populations with non-optimal access to medical or health professionals. More rural settings also allow medical and health professionals to wear multiple hats and learn a variety of skills in the process.

Advanced facility

Students may wish to study at advanced facilities because of the advanced technology and access to resources. Advanced facilities may also employ experts in the field with whom medical and health students can build professional relationships.

Expert’s location

Environmental considerations

Multiple locations

4

Find Housing that Works for You

While students all have different needs, many agree that comfortable housing options while enrolled in a study abroad program can significantly contribute to the overall experience. Students planning on studying abroad should consider all of their housing options, what they can afford, and which lodging scenario will best meet their personal needs.

Host family (Homestay)

Dormitory (Student Housing)

Private accommodation

Paying for Your Program

Unless you secure a position in a fully funded program, studying abroad can be costly. In addition to typical school expenses you might encounter on a daily basis, studying abroad includes plane tickets, rent, food, daily travel expenses, entertainment, and more. To prepare, medical and health students need to give themselves ample time to prepare, save money, and create a budget.

One of the best ways to finance a trip abroad is to begin saving money well in advance of one’s departure. Students can take advantage of computer programs and smartphone apps that help them create budgets and spending restrictions. Additionally, some students may choose to use an online crowdsourcing sites, such as FundMyTravel, to help generate funds.

Since many study abroad students will be traveling light, it can also be advantageous to sell any old textbooks, school supplies, or other personal items that aren’t needed in the foreseeable future. Additionally, in preparation for a study abroad program, students can save money by unsubscribing to video streaming services, avoiding costly social events and nightlife, or moving in with a friend or family member to save on rent. Last but not least, aspiring study abroad students should spend a significant amount of time trying to locate scholarships to help offset the cost of their trip.

Boost Your Bank Account:

20 Study Abroad Healthcare Scholarships

Medical and health students who wish to study abroad can look for funding both inside and outside of their university. Some scholarships are merit- or need-based, while others are reserved for students who study in a particular field. In the section that follows, we provide 20 applicable scholarships for learners trying to offset the cost of a study abroad program.

1. Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship

$3,000-$5,000

Offered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, this award is for undergraduates with limited financial means who wish to study abroad.

2. Robert B. Bailey Scholarship

Up to $2,000

Funded by the Council on International Educational Exchange, this scholarship is intended for ethnic minority students who demonstrate Financial need. Applications must include an outline of academic achievements, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation.

3. USAC Scholarships

Award amount varies

University Studies Abroad Consortium offers this award for students who demonstrate financial need and wish to study abroad. Applicants must be enrolled in a USAC study abroad program to apply.

4. McDermott Health Sciences, Nursing, and Public Health Merit Scholarship

$750-$2,500

Provided by the Council International Educational Exchange, this scholarship provides funding for study abroad students in health sciences, nursing, and public health. Applicants must be enrolled in a CIEE community and public health program.

5. Frederick Douglas Global Scholarship

Full coverage of program fees and travel costs for CIEE program

Offered up to 10 students per academic year, this fellowship allows minority students to participate in an intensive four-week, three-credit summer study abroad program. Applicants must submit letters of recommendation for consideration.

6. Global Education Merit-based Scholarship

$400-$3,000

Offered by the Cultural Experiences Abroad Organization, this merit-based scholarship is for students interested in studying abroad who possess a 2.5 or higher GPA. Applications need to include a letter of recommendation and a personal essay.

7. Generation Study Abroad Scholarship

$500-$1,000

Funded by the American Institute for Foreign Study, any students with a 3.0 or higher GPA who wish to study abroad may apply.

8. New Horizons Grant

$1,500-$2,000

The School of International Training offers awards for students to attend semester-long programs abroad. Applicants choose from programs in Argentina, Malaysia, and Senegal. Applicants must demonstrate financial need for consideration.

9. Joan Nelson Study Abroad Scholarship

$5,000

The Golden Key International Honour Society accepts applications from full-time or part-time undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate students currently enrolled in a study abroad program for this award. Applicants must be a Golden Key number to apply.

10. Corrinne Jeannine Schillings Foundation Study Abroad Scholarship

$1,000

This award is for students with a history of participating in Girl Scouts who wish to study abroad. The award is open to honor graduates in any area of study or major.

11. Toruga Study Abroad Scholarship

$1,000

Offered by the Tortuga backpack company, this award is for students to offset the cost of tuition, room and board, travel, or books while studying abroad. Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or student with a U.S. student visa.

12. Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Amount varies

The scholarship is open to recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree, master’s students, and doctoral candidates. Applicants may also be young professionals in law, business, or other professional fields. This award is for individuals who wish to live and learn for one academic year in a foreign country.

13. Rotary Foundation Global Scholarship

$30,000

This award is for individuals who wish to study abroad and participate in humanitarian activities, including disease prevention and treatment, maternal and child health, and community and economic development. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited master’s program.

14. Chevening Scholarship

Full funding for a one-year master’s program

Scholarship recipients receive full funding, including flights, accommodations, and course fees, to study at any university in the United Kingdom. Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree and at least two years of work experience in their field.

15. Institute for the International Education of Students Scholarship

Up to $500

This award is for traditionally underrepresented students who wish to study abroad. Applications need to include a personal statement and a completed financial aid form.

16. Global Experiences Generation Study Abroad Scholarship

Award amount varies

This award offers full or partial funding for any college or university student pursuing a summer- or semester-long internship abroad. Only students pursuing semester-long scholarships can receive full funding.

17. The Bridging Scholarship

$2,500-$4,000

Offered by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese, this award is for U.S. students who wish to study abroad in Japan during a full semester or full academic year. Recipients must submit a brief report about their studies while enrolled in the program.

18. German Study Abroad Scholarship

$1,250

Awarded by Delta Phi Alpha, this award is for students who wish to study abroad in a German speaking country. Applications must include a personal statement and a letter outlining the students plans to enroll in an accredited program.

19. Freeman-ASIA Scholarship

$3,000-$7,000

This need-based award provides funding for students who wish to study in Asia. Funds may be used for travel expenses, living costs, local transportation, and books. Recipients must complete a service-learning project that relates to their field of study.

20. Toshizo Watanabe Study Abroad Scholarship

Up to $25,000

Funded by the U.S.-Japan Council, this award provides funding for a student in financial need. Recipients will study for one academic year in Japan. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Get Ready! A Study Abroad Checklist

Preparing to study abroad requires careful planning and a number of important steps. With so many topics to cover before departing, it’s always good to create a checklist to keep things organized and make sure you have everything they need. Here’s a detailed list to get you going:

Apply for a passport

Students need to make sure they have a valid passport in order to travel internationally. In most cases, it takes six to eight weeks to renew an expired passport.

Register for a student visa

Depending on the location, students may need to obtain a student visa to be allowed into the country and remain for the duration of their program. Learners may be able to receive assistance with the student visa process from their host organization or institution.

Register with U.S embassy

Students should take advantage of the U.S. government’s free travel registration. This creates a record of the student’s travel plans and allows the embassy to help students more easily in the case of an emergency.

Get necessary vaccinations & fill prescriptions

Read consular information report

Familiarize yourself with cultural norms

Practice the language

Travel locks and security

Create a budget

Research and pay for your flights

Look into student ID/discount cards

Consider traveler’s insurance

Figure out cell phone plan

Plan your wardrobe

Test pack your baggage

Make copies of important documents

Keep physical copies of emergency contacts

Look into travel safety apps

Uncommon comforts

Bring a tool to stay in touch

Power supply and adaptors

Google Voice

Resources for Finding Study Abroad Programs

Medical and health students who wish to find additional resources should check with their institution’s study abroad office or home academic department. Additionally, a thoughtful google search can lead students to the homepages of accredited institutions and reputable organizations that offer study abroad programs in their field. Students researching study abroad programs should keep in mind that the best opportunities for their personal and academic needs may be located outside of the traditional university context. There are many organizations unrelated to academia that provide valuable training for study abroad learners. In the list below, we offer several online resources to point prospective study abroad students in the right direction.

https://www.aifs.com/
The American Institute for Foreign Study offers educational and cultural exchange programs around the globe.

https://www.goabroad.com/
GoAbroad.com provides features an advanced search engine to help students locate study abroad opportunities based on subject area, duration, and time commitment. The site includes information on volunteer, internship, and teaching opportunities for all subject areas.

https://www.studyabroad101.com/subjects/health-professions
StudyAbroad101 offers a curated list of study abroad programs for medical and health students and divides the programs into convenient subcategories.

https://www.studyabroad101.com/subjects/health-professions 
StudyAbroad101 offers a curated list of study abroad programs for medical and health students and divides the programs into convenient subcategories.

https://www.cisabroad.com/study-in-your-major/health-science/ 
This site features an easy-to-use search engine for study abroad programs. Prospective learners can filter results by academic major, destination country, and time commitment.

https://www.gooverseas.com/
GoOverseas provides information on more than 16,000 study abroad programs and jobs. The site also includes over 35,000 reviews from users to help prospective study abroad students choose the best program for them.

https://www.internationalstudent.com/study-centers/
InternationalStudent.com includes a useful search engine and general resources section for study abroad students.

https://usac.edu/
USAC’s online resources include information on study abroad opportunities and financial aid information.

https://studiesabroad.com/programfinder/
ISA’s site provides learners access to a useful program search engine and funding resources. The organization provides a wide variety of study abroad options including internships and volunteer opportunities.