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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 135-136

International medical electives: Building competence in undergraduate Medical Students

Student of Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan

Date of Web Publication29-Oct-2013

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.120710

How to cite this article:
Zaidi SA, Anwer MO, Anwer S. International medical electives: Building competence in undergraduate Medical Students. Educ Health 2013;26:135-6

How to cite this URL:
Zaidi SA, Anwer MO, Anwer S. International medical electives: Building competence in undergraduate Medical Students. Educ Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2022 Jan 24];26:135-6. Available from:

Dear Sir,

International Medical Electives (IMEs) have gained popularity among undergraduate medical students. As the world is witnessing globalization and a need for culturally proficient and benevolent physicians, [1] more and more undergraduate students are embarking on 2-12 weeks of healthcare experiences. [2] There is not much data available on IMEs, but a study by Jeffrey et al. found that since 2000, 23.1% of the students pursuing medical education in the United States have opted for global educational experiences and guidance annually. [3] In the developing countries the obstacles are countless. Challenges include slow and cumbersome assistance acquiring timely travel documents and meager funding from students' institutions, problems that hamper students' education and careers. In a study conducted by the Institute of International Education, the United States was found to be the top choice for medical electives and eventual residency placement for students worldwide (75%), with UK in second place. [4] Many medical students in the developing countries consider that even a short stint of 1-2 months will give them an edge in gaining a preferred residency over students who were trained locally with no overseas experience, give them more areas of interest that are limited in their own country, and put them in a better position to handle their future. In a recent U.S. National Residency Matching Program survey, the body regulating the annual match process, the number of registrants was the highest ever in 2012-2013, reaching 40,000, highlighting the competition for limited residency positions. [5] In a survey of students at American and Puerto Rican allopathic medical schools, it was reported that for 90% of the students who participated in IMEs, their principal aim was to improve their chances of getting a residency in their desired medical field and hospital, and moreover, to prepare themselves for postgraduate programs. [2] IMEs prepare students in basic clinical skills, like history taking and physical examination, and help students gain expertise in their general and focused approach to patients.

For students in the developed world, IMEs are often regarded as "medical tourism." They give students an opportunity to witness and serve in the medically deprived and underserved areas of the world. The regions of the world most often visited by students coming from the United States and Europe are South-east Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. But one must ask if communities really benefit from these visits by medical students? In a study conducted in Guatemala, the local people believed that such short stints by foreign doctors did not benefit them and might even be harmful because the students were not adequately trained. Further, the local community believed that their health problems were deeply rooted and due to a faulty and corrupt health system, which students' visits cannot address. [1]

In countries like Pakistan where inept governance mars most sectors, IME initiatives are taken mostly by the private sector and students themselves. Students have collaborated to build forums and volunteer organizations where students who desire to participate in such missions are given guidance and information. But this should be done on a larger scale where medical schools, deans and faculty lead initiatives and identify worthy students, allocate funds and establish collaborations with overseas universities to help the most promising students realize their potential. Governments should also come together and cooperate so that the administrative procedures are worked out and barriers lessened, so that IMEs can be arranged in a timely manner.

  References Top

1.Ackermand LK. The ethics of short term international health electives in developing countries. Ann Behav Sci Med Educ 2010;16:40-3.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Gupta R, MPH, Farmer PE. International electives: Maximizing the opportunity to learn and contribute. Med Gen Med 2005;7:78.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Jeffrey J, Dumont RA, Kim GY, Kuo T. Effects of international health electives on medical student learning and career choice: Results of a systematic literature review. Fam Med 2011;43:21-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.What international students think about U.S. higher education attitudes and perceptions of prospective students in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Institute of International Education (New York, N.Y.), Patricia Chow. 2011  Back to cited text no. 4
5.National Residency Program Survey. Residency Match 2013 Results. Available from:  Back to cited text no. 5

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