Physics, organic chemistry, microbiology. Flashcards, lab reports, and even more flashcards. Rinse, wash, repeat. If you’re a pre-med student, you know the drill.
Not only can you study abroad as a pre-med student, there are actually benefits to doing so.
And while all your liberal arts friends are strolling around Paris and London studying art history, you're stuck back at home in the lab, reeking of formaldehyde. Between a rigorous course load, volunteer hours at the hospital, and studying for the MCAT, you've accepted the fact that there's no way you can study abroad.
Well, think again! Not only can you study abroad as a pre-med student, there are actually benefits to doing so. With some thoughtful planning, you too can have your dream semester abroad while recharging and spicing up your resume.
Let’s start with some smart tips to make the process much easier, both while abroad and back at home.
- Plan ahead! Most universities require students to complete general requirements, which expose students to various fields. If you put off a few of those gen-ed requirements, you can then use your classes abroad to fulfill them. Depending on your program, you may have to get approval to transfer credits, so you'll also want to check if your home university will accept those credits. Note: Look at partnerships your university may already have to make it easier.
- Look into programs where you can do healthcare or medical-related service-learning or internships along with your studies. For those who are still uncertain that studying abroad will improve your resume, see what you can do about furthering the experience. Field research, an internship, or a service-learning program will not only demonstrate that you went abroad for more than the social life but also give you a pretty awesome experience!
- Consider a summer, spring, or winter abroad. This way, you can get a taste of study abroad without having to interrupt your studies or fall behind!
Scholarships for Pre-Med Students to Study Abroad
Believe it or not, there are scholarships and grants for pre-med students to study abroad, and surely your academic prowess will impress the financial powers that be. Being more financially secure while you’re abroad means fewer worries and more fun.
Below are some scholarships to start your research and applications:
- IES Abroad -- Offers scholarship and financial aid for study abroad, including for their health and pre-med study abroad programs.
- Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program -- Rewards students on a Federal Pell Grand with up to $5,000 to undergraduate students for study abroad.
- Rotary Foundation & Club Scholarships -- Provides high school, undergraduate, and graduate level students with funding each year, including for study abroad programs.
Benefits of Studying Abroad as a Pre-Med Student
So why go abroad when you can be filling your head with knowledge at home? Let’s take a look at the top five benefits of studying abroad as a pre-med student:
Avoid the Burnout
Medical schools have a long list of science prerequisites for potential applicants. That on top of your degree courseload means you spend a lot of time focusing on one or two subject matters.
It's tough not to get burnt out after four years of intense study -- not to mention while you're looking toward another four years of med school soon after. If you're starting to feel drained, maybe you need something to get your jazzed about school again, like, for example, study abroad!
By switching up your courses, environment, and shifting focus on application, you can get excited about academia again. Think about it, by learning about international healthcare and putting it into action as a study abroad student in Ghana, you're reminded of why you chose pre-med in the first place. This is an opportunity to put all this work in perspective and come back next semester feeling rejuvenated.
You're a pre-med student. You know how significant a change of environment can be for your mental health and sanity!
Round Out Your Resume
These days, having stellar grades isn’t enough to make you stand out in a crowd of potential MDs. If you are looking to make your application more unique, adding international experience to your resume will be a definite plus.
What better way to be introduced to life abroad and gain international experience than through an exchange program at an international university? By saving some of your general education requirements, such as history or art, you have classes that will help you reach graduation that you can take abroad.
For example, why not take a course on the sociology of the Italian mafia or the history of the Medici family while living and studying in Florence?! Or brush up on your Spanish by studying Spanish in Nicaragua to add bilingualism to your set of already extraordinary skills? Employers are looking for this -- so why wait?
Med schools will be impressed that you could fit in a study abroad semester with your packed schedule. But more importantly, your term abroad demonstrates that you have interests beyond biology and that you have actively pursued those interests. No one's one-dimensional, so why not find a program with classes you're dying to learn more about and get to it!
Learn in a Multicultural Environment
As the world becomes more interconnected, it is increasingly important to improve our abilities to listen and understand those with different experiences than our own.
This concept is especially crucial in healthcare, where practitioners help people from all walks of life and are likely to be working alongside team members from various backgrounds.
As someone looking to go into a career in medicine, it will help you practice these skills early on while living abroad.
From the hurdles of a language barrier to the challenges of understanding why people act the way they do, the more time you spend immersed with those from another culture, the better and more empathetic listener you will become.
Although study abroad, in general, will help you achieve cultural sensitivity and experience in a multicultural environment, you can also gain a broader understanding of healthcare and what it means to "be healthy" in your host country by taking global health courses, medical anthropology courses, or working in a healthcare internship. Believe it or not, when you add cultural differences into the mix, medicine and healthcare may not be as monochromatic as it first appeared.
Gain Hands-On Experience with Service Learning
If you've already gotten your gen eds out of the way and need more experience in the medical field, you can easily gain real-life experience in the medical field by participating in a service-learning study abroad program or by partaking in a healthcare internship.
Whether it's shadowing a doctor in Tanzania or participating in healthcare outreach in Central America, these hybrid programs are designed to get you both abroad experience and medical experience.
Furthermore, many of these programs tend to be short-term -- which is especially great if you don't have an entire semester or year to dedicate to studying abroad and can only squeeze in spring, summer, or winter term programs.
Have Some Fun!
Medical school is a pretty big commitment in your 20s. Besides the hours of studying, there are days spent in the hospital's anatomy lab and sleepless nights. Meanwhile, you will have Facebook reminding you daily how much fun your non-med school friends are having.
So why not take advantage of the opportunity in college to study in another place? You can travel on your weekends, visiting the surrounding areas. Meet locals, try new cuisine, and collect a whole lot of great memories. Have some fun before you spend the next four years of your life in a library.
Get Inspired With These Pre-Med Study Abroad Programs
You Too Can Study Abroad!
You’re intelligent -- enough so to know studying abroad isn’t just about studying. These days, hitting the books isn’t all medical schools want to see.
They care about your grades, of course, but they also want to know you’re a well-rounded person with real interests and passions. So if studying abroad is on your radar in college, you may find that you’re doing yourself a favor both professionally and personally by taking this opportunity. Leave those textbooks behind and get out there!