Healthcare is no longer viewed as an issue to be tackled by individual countries. Due to modern transportation, a disease outbreak in Bangladesh could be in any of the world's major cities within twenty-four hours. Thus the new approach, global health, is more inclusive.
Interning in the healthcare field not only prepares you for a career in medical related fields, but it is also a once in a lifetime experience. You’ll get to see the world in a whole new way: meet locals who need your help the most. Who knows, you may form instant bonds that last a lifetime.
Whether you're working at a clinic in Uganda or participating in field research in Peru, interning abroad is a great way to round out your resume and get hands on experience. There are medical internships for all levels of experience and qualifications. So no excuses, pack up, get set and away you go!
Pre-Medical: For those contemplating a career as a doctor, interning abroad gives you an opportunity to shadow seasoned doctors, observe procedures, and participate in community outreach. You can be placed in a rural clinic or in a big city hospital. You biggest asset will be our knowledge of health and ability to provide health education.
Nursing: You will most likely learn how to assist in medical procedures, and duties such as bandaging, taking blood pressure, and assisting staff with deliveries. Some internships will involve working with pre and post-natal women, particularly if you’re interested in midwifery.
HIV/AIDS Prevention: As we continue to fight the war against HIV and AIDS, interns often find this area to be one both of interest and one they as passionate about as it effects so many young people. These internships primarily involve health promotion, education and stigma reduction.
Medical Research: Numerous opportunities arise overseas to study different diseases, treatments and standard best practice. Often this research is funded by academic institutions in the States, allowing for you to be involved in the work even after you return from the internship.
Traditional Medicine: Popular destinations for this type of internship include China, India, and Sri Lanka. You will most likely be working in more rural areas as modern facilities are rare. Hence these places may rely on more traditional forms of medicine. You can arrange this with a more traditional medical internship in a clinic.
Dentistry: You will most likely be working in clinics where dentist will try to educate the public about oral hygiene basics and its importance. Sizes of clinics vary depending on where you will be located. Most programs pair you one on one with an experience dentist who will mentor you throughout your whole internship, depending on the length of time you join.
Physical Therapy: Expect more advanced conditions since places you go to might not have money to pay for proper treatment and staff that might not have the necessary experience. You will probably be helping to rehabilitate disabled adults and children with a wide variety of conditions. For example, you might work with professions treating patients with leprosy or polio.
Because of the huge deficit of adequate access to healthcare, there are opportunities to intern all over the world. No one country presents a better opportunity than the next and every experience will help you understand what it is like to provide healthcare in a low-resource setting. If you are have a particular interest there may be a region or country you should focus on. For example, if you want to do HIV education, South Africa and Kenya both have a number of organizations focusing on that kind of work. There are few opportunities to intern abroad in the developed countries and those that do exist are primarily office-based. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has internships at its headquarters in Geneva.
In given regions of the developing world, there are specific issues that need special attention. Below is a list of the regions and just a few of their health priorities. Other regions may also be in dire need of help, though some are considered dangerous for foreigners.
- West Africa: malaria, diabetes, malnutrition
- Central America: dengue, maternal & child health, diarrheal disease (cholera)
- Southeast Asia: dengue, parasitic disease, maternal & child health, diarrheal disease
- Southern Africa: HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malnutrition
- South Asia: tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, maternal & child health, diarrheal disease
Planning Your Trip
The most important aspect of the internship experience, regardless of where you are, is networking. It may seem obvious, but employers are always on the lookout for young, talented, driven individuals and they remember the ones who introduce themselves. Networking isn't limited to the people whom you have direct contact with. Find people that you interest you and ask them if they wouldn't mind getting coffee. Learn about how they got to where they are, what they wish they had done differently and what advice they have for you.
If you are moving to a big city, check to see if there are professional nursing or medical societies and if they have meetings. When friends mention they have a niece/cousin/sister-in-law who is a doctor in the city you are interning, take them up on the offer to put you in touch. He/she may know about ways you can get more involved, have further introductions or could just be your first acquaintance in a new place.
When and Where to Look for a Healthcare Internship:
Many of the official internship programs are on a semester schedule, usually lasting between 2-3 months. Because these positions are coveted, the application process may take time therefore it is advisable to do your research and apply early.
US universities often have intern programs abroad for undergraduates and graduate students and some have partnerships with other universities overseas. Talk to your school's career center, check out their website, or visit the study abroad office to see what options there may be. Talk to professors in the field about your interests and where they suggest looking for internships.
Many larger organizations like the WHO and the Clinton Global Initiative have intern programs throughout the year, which you apply to directly. Most of these programs require you to be a student or recent graduate. There are also companies which act as middlemen, setting up internships in various countries. This route will probably mean you will need to pay a fee for their service, but it also means you are likely to have help finding transportation, housing and other logistics. Finally, if you have an idea of where you'd like to work already, you can contact them directly to see if they have an internship program.
It is smart to check if your school offers scholarships for students who are interning abroad. Your school may also offer credit for a summer internship.