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The Pre-Health Student Abroad

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By Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising

“Off-campus study is an excellent means of developing some of the personal qualities inherent to healthcare—cultural sensitivity, powers of observation and listening skills, self-reliance, and adaptability and resilience, to name a few.  In your travels you might find the opportunity to observe healthcare systems different from our own (and make interesting comparisons) and see firsthand how varied cultural attitudes toward health, healing, and doctors can be.  F&M students in recent years have studied in Denmark, London, South Africa, Kenya, India, several countries in South America, and more.  Experiences like these broaden your knowledge of health issues and ultimately make you better prepared for the professional life that lies ahead of you . . .  [Y]our off-campus study will expand your perspective in ways you cannot anticipate—and enrich your education in health professional school, in your patient care training, and in your whole career well after your years at F&M.”

That’s a quote directly from a new section of the HPA website called “The Pre-Health Student Abroad.”  My immediate response to such comments is, “Well-said!” (since I wrote them).  Seriously, studying abroad is something you should think about.  Rather, it is something you should think about as a real possibility.  Many pre-health students have said to me, “I thought about off-campus study when I first got to F&M but I ruled it out because I’m pre-med.”  Hmm . . . because you’re pre-med, in my book, is a reason to give off-campus study programs more serious consideration, not less.  Picture yourself learning in an environment that’s foreign to you, possibly even in another language (med school will seem foreign to you, and medicine is often called “another language”); meeting people with customs and beliefs strange to you (like the diverse patients you will treat some day); and seeing our own country from a whole new perspective, as non-Americans do (oh, the things you may notice about our healthcare system from the outside looking in).  When I studied abroad in college, I played it safe.  I went to London.  And yet, the British were still hard to understand despite our common language, their culture was enigmatic and provided endless hours of fascination to me, and their opinions about Americans, well, let’s just say I developed a critical eye toward U.S. politics.

I admit, the logistics of completing pre-health course requirements and studying abroad can be overwhelming, so please take a look at “The Pre-Health Student Abroad,” which details how you might complete your academic requirements and also provides examples of some programs that pre-health students have found interesting.  The International and Off-Campus Study office would be your next logical stop.  And if you have a spare moment you might find this interview interesting from NPR's Talk of the Nation:  Studying Abroad: Is It Really Worth It?.  Bon voyage!

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