Studying Abroad as a Premed

Newport Premedical Consulting, LLC

Newport Premedical Consulting, LLC

Study abroad is one way to build cultural competence and develop a more inclusive, tolerant, global view of the world. As a future physician, study abroad can play an important role in your education. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity so please consider this option seriously. Visit your study abroad office, do your research and meet with your advisor. It takes careful planning, but WELL WORTH EVERY MOMENT ABROAD so don't pass up this opportunity. Learn a new language, take an anthropology class, do an internship, travel to new places and expand your cultural horizons.  

Core Competencies

Studying abroad will pose many challenges as far as timing and course selection but well worth the effort. One of the biggest lessons you will learn from living overseas is that even with the most careful planning, things could go completely different. These challenges and surprises build cultural competence, resilience, adaptability and patience, all qualities found in the AAMC 15 Core Competencies of Entering Medical School Students. So even with the logistical challenges, studying abroad as a premed is life-changing and could play a significant role in your application.

WHAT to study while abroad

What will you take abroad?  Science or not science? Many students do not take science classes abroad but instead focus on language and other topics of interest or requirements. Are you considering taking the basic PREMED courses abroad or more ADVANCED science coursework? If so, here are some things to consider.

  • Science is taught differently overseas (and usually at a more advanced level) and therefore if you are looking to take one of the BASIC PREMED CLASSES abroad, please reconsider this choice. Matching a US course with an overseas university course can be challenging. Don't try and take Physics I in Dublin and think it will match up with Physics 2 back at your home campus. Some US universities offer their own Physics or upper level Biology class overseas and in this case, this would be appropriate since it has already been evaluated by the US home science department and adopted as their own. The main points to consider are: 1) making sure you get credit, 2) making sure you are prepared of the MCATs and 3) making sure you stay on track. 
  • Medical schools evaluate overseas coursework differently and you might have to take a more advanced level once you return to the US. Check the US medical school websites as they will articulate their policy on premed courses taken overseas. AMCAS has a separate podcast and tutorial on how to enter study abroad coursework on your AMCAS application so look for this when you apply. 
  • If you have already fulfilled the basic premed classes on campus, then it is fine to take MORE ADVANCED COURSEWORK overseas.  Ex.: Cell Biology, Marine Biology, Physiology. Actually this would be a great talking point somewhere in your application!
  • Consider taking a science class in the summer. It is common for students to take Physics I and/or II, for example, in the summer before studying abroad to stay on track. Take the class either at your home institution or at an accredited 4 year college or university.

Please seek on campus guidance to make sure you understand how study abroad will work with your academic plan.  You will need to decide  1) when you will study abroad (fall, spring, summer or academic year, SO, JR or SR year), 2) when you will take the MCATs, 3) when you will apply to medical school, 4) ask advisors when typically the transcript will arrive.  

When to study abroad

Summer, Fall, Spring or for the Academic year? There are many options so do your research and talk to an advisor. Studying abroad takes careful planning and with this anything is possible. Having said that, there are some clear preferences as far as timing. 

  • CONSIDER FALL: If you want to study abroad as a junior and "apply on time", please consider going abroad in the fall instead of the spring of your junior year or consider spring semester SOPH year or in the summer. This will give you ample time to receive the transcript and for your school to enter the grades accurately on your home school transcript. It will also give you time to fix any problems associated with late grades, delays or errors on your overseas transcripts. Since you will be around in the spring,  you can study for the MCATs, secure recommendations, and attend application meetings at your school. Most likely you will not have an opportunity to do clinical work abroad so this will give you the spring semester to make sure you have one more clinical experience to reflect upon in the application. 
  • Studying abroad and studying for the MCATs at the same time is not the best combination. Yes, Kaplan, for example offers test prep classes abroad, but honestly don't waste your valuable study abroad time studying for the MCATs. 
  • Some students aim to take the MCATs before studying abroad. This plan works if you have chemistry, biology, physics, psychology/sociology completed. It also gives you the opportunity to see the MCAT score and determine IF you would like to retake one more time before applying. 
  • SPRING OR FULL YEAR: If you would like to study abroad for the spring or full year, then strongly consider waiting a year to apply ....which is completely fine! If you want to study abroad for the spring or full year AND want to apply "on time" then with very careful planning it can be done (i.e. MCAT timing, course planning, transcript timing). Seek assistance from your dean and advisors to create a plan. I have worked with many successful applicants who went abroad for the year and applied on time with amazing success.
  • Read the article I co-authored entitled International Study in Premedical Education, published in Academic Medicine. We asked what medical school think of study abroad and what they think of science coursework taken abroad. In general, schools find great value in an international education experience but many were skeptical about sciences taken abroad due to lack of information. 
  • SUMMER: If you are not considering studying abroad during the academic year, consider studying abroad in the summer  Work on your language, fulfill a requirement  or volunteer, collaborate with a faculty member on a research opportunity abroad, teach English, work at a clinic. Create your own opportunity abroad through your church connections, networking and faculty connections. Refer to the International Opportunities page for hints on how to conduct clinical work overseas. Remember, be creative. If the opportunity does not exist, make one! 

Your overseas experience/s will play an important role in your application.

  • It could be part of your transcript if you get credit for the experience.
  • It will certainly be part of your 15 experiences and maybe selected as your Most Meaningful.
  • It could be the central theme of your personal statement.
  • It could be part of your secondary application essays.
  • It might be part of your interview. 

Couple a study abroad experience in Costa Rica with some other related topics and you get a huge return on your investment. 4 years of Spanish + study abroad in a Spanish speaking country + volunteer work at a local clinic as a translator + VP of the university tutoring program for Mexican migrant worker children = a very competitive applicant.