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Why You Can (and Should!) Study Abroad as a Pre-Med Student

Study abroad as a premed student

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 traipsing 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.

Getting Started...

Let’s start with some smart tips that can make the process much easier, both while abroad and back at home.

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  • Plan ahead! Most American colleges require students to complete general requirements, which expose students to a variety of 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 of you 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 volunteer / 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. And being more financially secure while you’re abroad means less worries and more fun. Here are some scholarships that we stumbled on:

  • Benjamin Franklin Travel Grant -- will give scholarships to students who want to combine French studies with a non-liberal arts program. French minor anyone?
  • Brokerfish -- Although this scholarship isn't directly related to pre-med, students of all disciplines are applicable to apply for this $1,000 USD scholarship to study abroad.
  • Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships -- Offered by the Australian government, this scholarship is open to pre-med students who want to study abroad in Australia.

So why go abroad when you can be filling your head with knowledge at home? Let’s take a look at the top four reasons why you should reconsider the opportunities awaiting overseas:

1. Avoid the Burnout

Medical schools have a long list of science prerequisites for potential applicants. That along with whatever it is you need to take to fulfill your biology degree at your college means you spend a lot of time focused on one or two subject matters.

Maybe you need something to get your jazzed about school again, like, for example, study abroad!

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 not only courses but the environment, 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, completed your courses in a different environment, and will come back to school the next semester feeling rejuvenated.

C'mon, you're a pre-med student, you know how important change of environment can be for your mental health and sanity!

2. 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.

And what better way to be introduced to life abroad and gain international experience than through an exchange program at a foreign 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 awesome skills? Employers are looking for this -- so why wait?

Med schools will be impressed that you were able to fit in a study abroad semester with your packed schedule. But more importantly, your term abroad demonstrates that you have interests beyond biology and 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!

3. Learn in a Multicultural Environment

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As the world becomes more interconnected, it is increasingly important to improve our abilities to listen and understand those dissimilar to us.

This concept is especially crucial in the field of healthcare where practitioners help people from all walks of life, and are likely to be working alongside team members from a variety of backgrounds.

As someone who is looking to go into a career medicine, it will help you to practice these skills early on while living abroad.

From the confusion of communicating with someone who speaks another language to the challenges of understanding why people act the way they do, the more time you spend with those from another culture the better you will be at listening and drawing conclusions.

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 black and white as it first appeared.

4. 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 a healthcare internship.

Whether it's shadowing a doctor in Tanzania or participating in healthcare outreach in Central America, these hybrid programs are an 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 a full semester or year to dedicate to studying abroad and can only squeeze in a spring, summer, or winter term program.

5. Have Some Fun!

Medical school is a pretty big commitment in your 20s. Besides the hours of studying, there’s days spent in the anatomy lab and sleepless nights in the hospital. Meanwhile you will have Facebook reminding you on a daily basis 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, exploring the surrounding areas. Meet locals, try new cuisine, and collect a whole lot of great memories. Have some fun before you spend the next 4 years of your life in a library.

Suggested Study Abroad Programs

You Too Can Study Abroad!

You’re smart, smart enough to know studying abroad isn’t just about the studying. And 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 actually doing yourself a favor both professionally and personally by taking this opportunity. Leave those textbooks behind and go explore!

Look for pre-med study abroad programs.

Photo Credits: Murat Birtane and Melody Shieh.
Lindsay Denny

Having studied abroad in Florence in college, Lindsay caught the travel bug. During a year off, she volunteered at in a hospital in Ghana and traveled to Argentina. She also spent 6 months studying and interning in the Philippines in grad school. She now lives in Cambodia, running an NGO and exploring Southeast Asia.