Studying Abroad as a Premed

Jennifer Nemecek, Newport Premedical Consulting, LLC

Studying Abroad as a PREMED

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.  

Study abroad also fits perfectly with one of the 15 Core Competencies of Entering Medical School Students outlined but the AAMC. It states as follows: 

Cultural Competence: Demonstrates knowledge of socio-cultural factors that affect interactions and behaviors; shows an appreciation and respect for multiple dimensions of diversity; recognizes and acts on the obligation to inform one’s own judgment; engages diverse and competing perspectives as a resource for learning, citizenship, and work; recognizes and appropriately addresses bias in themselves and others; interacts effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

So when will you go abroad? Summer, Fall, Spring or for the Academic year? There are many options so consider them all and talk to an advisor. 

So what will you take abroad?  If you are considering taking science classes abroad, here are some things to consider. Are you planning to take the basic PREMED courses abroad or more ADVANCED science coursework? There is a difference:

  • 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 own 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.
  • 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. 

Please seek on campus guidance to make sure you understand how study abroad will work with your academic plan.  You will need to determine when you will study abroad (fall, spring or academic year), when you will take the MCATs, and when the transcript will arrive. What you don't want to do is delay your application to medical school because your transcript is late from abroad. 

Studying abroad takes careful planning and with this anything is possible. Having said that, there are some clear preferences as far as timing. If you want to study abroad as a junior and "apply on time" to medical school, please consider going abroad in the fall instead of the spring. This will give you time to receive the transcript and get the grades accurately entered on your transcript. It will also give you time to fix any problems associated with late grades or errors on your overseas transcripts. It will also give you time in the spring to study for the MCATs, gather recommendations, and attend application meetings at your school. Studying abroad and studying for the MCATs at the same time is not the best combination. If you would like to study abroad for the fall or full year, then strongly consider waiting a year to apply (which is completely fine!). If you want to study abroad for the fall or full year AND apply "on time" then with very careful planning it can be done. Seek assistance from your dean and advisors to create a plan. 

Read the article I co-authored entitled International Study in Premedical Education, published in Academic Medicine. It 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. 

If you are not considering studying abroad during the academic year, consider studying abroad in the summer  Take a class; Volunteer; Collaborate with a faculty member on a research opportunity abroad. 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!