Steps for Taking International Electives


We highly recommend that all students interested in participating in an International Elective through the Global Health Program read through the International Electives Policy  As it states in the Policy, all those taking international electives must adhere to the Policy.  Only those taking electives within Canada are exempt. 

Follow the steps below and download this handy checklist to ensure you complete them all before, during and after your elective.

Note:  The Global Health Bursary is no longer available however the Global Health Program is researching alternate sources of funding to offset the costs associated with taking an international elective.  Please check out the Get Funding tab for more information about financial assistance for your international elective. 


International electives refers to all overseas electives administered by the Global Health Program i.e. IFMSA, European Electives (U of A), Field Stations, PGME, and independently organized overseas electives.

Field Stations are international electives which the Global Health Program has organized with its partners in Ghana, Nepal, Uganda, and Shanghai. Go here for the Program Brochure.

IFMSA refers to the International Federation of Medical Students Association which is a network of 1.3 million medical students from 127 national members organizations in 119 countries around the globe.  It was created "to bring together medical students from all over the world to engage with global health issues".  The Global Health Program ensures that students have completed all the U of A requirements for travel under the auspices of the University.

US & European Electives can be found in the UME electives catalogue for Years 3 & 4.  For specific information about European Electives contact Dr. Steve Caldwell at  The Global Health Program ensures that students have completed all the U of A requirements for travel to these electives under the auspices of the University. 

Independent Electives are electives that the student or resident organizes independently.  The Global Health Program ensures that students and residents have completed all the U of A requirements for travel under the auspices of the University.

PGME Electives are independently organized by Post Grad Medical Education residents. The Global Health Program ensures that residents have completed all the U of A requirements for travel under the auspices of the University. The PGME Application Form can be found here and must be submitted to the PGME Office 6 months prior to departure.  Residents are also expected to complete the checklist here 6 weeks prior to departure.

Updated on April 22, 2024

1. Make sure your passport is up to date
It is important that your passport is current and that it won't expire within 6 months of your departure.  The airlines won’t allow you to check in with a passport that is 6 months from expiry.
2. Decide where to go

There are several ways that you can take an overseas elective:

1.  Go with a Global Health Program field station such as to Ghana, Uganda, Nepal or Shanghai.   Go here to learn about all the available field stations organized by the Global Health Program for undergrads as well as post-grads.  Go here to learn about the benefits of taking a Field Station Elective versus other international electives.  The deadline for submitting your interest in a field station is January 31. You submit your interest by completing all the parts of the application form (see step 3) that are starred/required.

2.  Go with the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA) or Child Family Health International or other such non-profit organization. The IFMSA has announced that they anticipate IFMSA exchanges to return for the summer of 2024. Go to the IFMSA website here or contact the U of A's Local Exchange Officer at

3.  If in 3rd or 4th year of UME, take an elective in the United States or a European Elective at the Medical University of Graz in Graz, Austria, or at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich Germany, or at Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden to name a few. Go here for more information. Contact Dr. Steve Caldwell at for questions.

4.  Organize an independent elective ie. non-CACMs or non-LCME accredited institution, non-field station location, non-UofA European elective site, an elective with an NGO, or a research project. If you would like to do this, there are project proposal questions within the UME application that you will be required to submit.  

A handy guide to assist learners in determining an elective that best suits their interests is the Researching Your Elective Destination Worksheet which can be found here. This worksheet can help students explore basic information about the people, places, and things they may visit on their international elective.

3. Decide if you are doing a research project
If your international elective is research based please contact for further information.
4. Complete the forms

All students and residents taking an international elective must complete the following forms:

Application Form and Check List

Undergrad Medical Students Application Form and Checklist can be found here. Within this form you will be asked to provide your goals and objectives for your elective. Students must submit their application form at least 6 weeks prior to departure to allow the UofA's Risk Management and Insurance office to research whether the UofA's insurance and WCB will cover students in the country and if not, purchase additional insurance.  

Students applying for a Field Station, are to complete the required questions (those with a red asterix) by January 31. 

PGME Application Form can be found here and the checklist here The application form must be submitted 6 months prior to departure.  The checklist must be submitted at least 6 weeks prior to departure.

5. Take the 12-hour Global Health Education and Advocacy Elective (GHEA)

To be eligible to participate in international electives, all medical students taking international electives -- including those organizing independent electives and taking European Electives -- are required to take the 12 Hour Global Health Education & Advocacy Elective (GHEA). To learn more about the Medical Students Association (MSA) Community Engagement electives visit the website.  Students are welcome to complete the elective even if they do not desire to participate in international electives.  The UME and Global Health programs believe the GHEA will prepare all students taking international electives with the background, skills and understanding required to take an elective in international contexts. Residents taking PGME international electives are exempt from this requirement. 

The GHEA elective is organized by the Local Officers of Global Health (LOGH) from the Medical Students Association. You can find the syllabus on their website and how to register here.  For more information regarding this elective contact Topics include "Power & Privilege", "What is Global Health?" and "Ethical Engagement with International Health" and are presented by U of A faculty, guest faculty and the Director of the Global Health Program Director, Dr. Dominic Allain.

The overarching goal of this elective is to create a basis for future global health experiences. Students will develop an understanding of the concepts of global health and ethical engagement. With this knowledge, students will practice health promotion in a way that empowers communities. This elective will help frame expectations about international and global health experiences and the ethics, joys and risks of a learning experience abroad. The sessions will encourage participants to think about many issues and how to prepare, mentally and physically.  The 12-hour elective also gives students a chance to engage with health care professionals who have experience with Global Health work. 

6. Take pre-departure training

Step 1:  Take the mandatory Pre-departure Orientation with University of Alberta International.  Once you apply for the elective, your name will be added to the eClass pre-departure training course.  Go to eClass here and enter the enrollment key Medicine23 if travelling before May 1, 2024 and use enrollment key Medicine24 if travelling after May 1, 2024.  Students who have taken the Pre-Departure Orientation previously need not repeat the content but must complete a Risk Plan via the system each year. For more information and to request that your Risk Plan be reset for your upcoming elective, contact

Step 2: Take the Global Health Program's pre-departure training day.  The Global Health Program in collaboration with the Medical Students’ Association Local Officers of Global Health will provide a mandatory pre-departure training day in the spring of each year that will prepare students attending international electives being held in various contexts. This 1-day session is meant to supplement, not replace, the 12-hour Global Health Education and Advocacy elective and the UAI's pre-departure orientation. It will cover guidelines, expectations, and other topics as professionalism, ethics, working in underserved areas, personal safety and security while abroad.  For more details about when this session will be held contact: 
PGME Residents:
Because Residents fall under the risk steps for staff as outlined under staff travel policies, the Office of Insurance and Risk Assessment handles Residents' travel.  Someone from this office will provide the signature for the line "Risk Management Approved" on the PGME application form.  They can be reached at for more details.
7. Register your elective

The following information applies to undergraduate students and is based upon the MD Electives Program Policy and Procedures which can be found here.

Pharmacy students: register in INTD 457 if undertaking the course at Fudan University in Shanghai

First Year Medical Students: In order to be covered for malpractice and liability insurance with the university and receive credit for the summer international elective, students must register by using the MED 517/518 A & B Form in Bear Tracks. It is very important that you register in both sections respectively to be covered for malpractice insurance and to obtain credit for the elective time. Registration for this course becomes available in February and closes April 30. Students are required to add the elective to Assess.Med before they attend the elective.  The elective is to be added to Assess.Med using the Year 1 Elective MED 517/518 Form.  To add the elective, the student must know the preceptor name and email address.

Second Year Medical Students (i.e. students who have completed their second academic year) In order to be covered for malpractice and liability insurance with the university and receive credit for the summer international elective, students must register in MED 528 A & B through Bear Tracks. It is very important that you register in both sections respectively to be covered for malpractice insurance and to obtain credit for the elective time.  Registration for this course becomes available in February and closes April 30.

2nd, 3rd and 4th Year Medical Students:  Send the email confirmation of your international elective to and they will add the elective to your schedule in MedSIS.


Students attending Observerships/Shadowing must add the observership to Assess.Med before they attend the elective.  If in Year 1 use the "Year 1 ELV MED 517/518 Form"; if in year 2 use the "Observerships/Shadowing Form found in the following academic year that you are currently attending.

Field Station & Clinical Electives Registration

Students are required to send the letter of confirmation of elective as well as the preceptor's first and last name and email address to  Students must add the elective to Assess.Med using the ELV MED 528 form which can be found in the following academic year that the student is currently attending.

Elective Evaluation Process

Completing an elective does not automatically mean credit is granted for that elective. An evaluation must be completed by the student's preceptor with a "pass" indicated in the evaluation.

  • For clinical electives, students are to ensure that the elective is listed in MedSIS before the elective begins.
  • At the conclusion of the elective, students are to complete their portion of the ELV MED 528 form and hand their device to their preceptor to complete the evaluation.   If your preceptor is not available, click "save for later" which will result in an email with a link being sent to the preceptor from Assess.Med to complete the evaluation at a later date.  **The "submit" button should never be clicked before your preceptor has completed their portion of the form.  Either the student or preceptor can click "submit but only after the preceptor has completed the evaluation.**
8. Meet with a faculty advisor
Learners who have chosen a field station elective will be invited to a meeting with the faculty advisor familiar with the site to give further details about the site, expectations and preparations necessary for the elective. Host institution applications and requirements may be provided at this time. If you are not taking a global health field station, skip to the next step.
9. Listen to a vodcast
Students/residents are required to listen to an important Health Vodcast (60 minutes). Note that although the title of the vodcast states "for Students on Elective to Low Income Countries", the vodcast has content that is relevant for all students going on an international elective.
10. Think about insurance

UME students attending International Electives for credit through the University of Alberta are automatically covered by the University's insurance and the University will check to see if there are any concerns regarding students' coverage for WCB in the country they are going to.  If there are concerns regarding WCB coverage, the students will be notified so they can take appropriate action with the Government of Alberta which administers WCB. 

PGME Residents should check with the PGME office to learn about their coverage status.

General information about student WCB coverage can be found here and specific information for Student Coverage can be found here.

It is important to note that if a student/resident is exposed to blood or fluids while on an elective overseas, they follow the U of A Human Blood or Body Fluid Exposure Protocol. WCB must be contacted within 48 hours of being exposed. Information is within the Protocol.

It is recommended that all students and residents take out additional health, cancellation and travel insurance.

11. Review the U of A's off-campus activity and travel policies

The University of Alberta strongly supports off-campus activity and travel as a means of broadening experience, expanding and sharing knowledge, and encouraging innovation and collaboration. Off-campus activities and travel can incur some level of risk, which should be mitigated through planning and preparation. The university's policy regarding off-campus activity & travel was designed to support travel that is safe, productive, and enjoyable.

When traveling internationally, you should always be aware of your destination's safety and security conditions. Keep in mind that some regions of a country may be considered more hazardous than others.

The University of Alberta follows the advice of the Government of Canada in restricting international travel. Global Affairs Canada assesses risks associated with individual countries and rates the country (and sometimes specific regions of countries) according to one of four risk levels.


Level 1: Exercise normal security precautions

Level 2: Exercise a high degree of caution

Level 3: Avoid non-essential travel

Level 4: Avoid all travel

There are some important precautions to take when arranging international trips. These steps are included in the Global Health application and must be completed prior to departure:

  1. Review the Off-Campus Activity and Travel Policy
  2. Check Global Affairs Canada regularly for travel advice and advisories
  3. Ensure that you have met all applicable entry/exit requirements of your destination (e.g. you may require a work or study visa rather than a tourist visa)
  4. Take care to respect all laws and regulations of the destination country
  5. Be sure to speak with a health professional well before travel about recommended vaccines for the destination.
  6. Register with the University's UGo Off-Campus Travel Registry and Government of Canada's Registration of Canadians Abroad so that you will receive information from the University and the Government of Canada in the event of an emergency or crisis situation
  7. Use the International SOS service for further planning and emergency assistance. Ensure that you have appropriate travel insurance in place (including emergency health insurance and personal travel insurance) and take your travel cards/contact numbers with you. Students travelling abroad should read through the U of A's information on travel health insurance.  Students have some coverage from the University but some exclusions apply.
  8. For more information and resources visit University of Alberta International's website about Safety & Security Abroad
  9. Students will need to arrange their own trip cancellation insurance
12. Get an approval letter (if applicable)
Some of our electives partners require a letter stating that students are in good standing and are approved to go on an international elective. These letters of approval can be obtained from the Director, Global Health by contacting
13. Get immunized (if applicable)
Arrange a consultation at a travel clinic if attending an elective in a Low or Middle-Income Country (LMIC). If you did not get a TB test when you entered medical school, arrange to have a pre-travel TB test and ensure to receive a post-travel TB test. Students will need to go to private clinics or the University Health Centre to receive their immunizations.  A signed certificate is required if attending a Global Health Field Station.
14. Get your visa (if applicable)
Some countries require visas. Check the specific information about the Field Stations for information for those countries. If you have organized your own elective, check whether or not you will need a visa for that country or what sort of visa you may require. Some locations such as China may require a study visa rather than a tourist visa, for example. Please note that electives in Kenya require a visa which must be applied for at least 6 months before the elective.
15. Email the Global Health Program when you arrive

Medical students taking electives abroad are required to email the Global Health program once they arrive at their elective site to let us know you arrived safely and send us some highlights of your experience a couple of times during your elective. We understand that there are some locations where internet access is intermittent so we understand if you are unable to connect several times but we do ask that you at least let us know you arrived safely. 

16. Attend the post-elective debrief session
All students residents who take international electives -- including those attending European Electives -- must attend a post-elective debrief session with the Director of the Global Health program.


What is a "field station" elective?

A "field station" elective offers undergraduates a chance to spend elective time working and learning in a Low or Middle Income country. The elective experience may involve a mix of shadowing, observation, active participation and attending lectures. It must be at a tropical and/or resource-limited UME-approved location. These electives are organized by the Global Health program and are established with our partners in the following countries:  Ethiopia, Uganda, Nepal, and China.

There is a wealth of information about global health issues on the website of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH).

How much will it cost me to take an international elective and what are my funding options?

The major cost of any global health elective is the airplane ticket. There are also possibilities of applying for travel bursaries. Check out the "Get Funding" tab on this website for more information.

Additional expenses include:

  • Accommodations (most likely provided at a nominal cost)
  • Local travel (taxi, bus, ferries, etc.)
  • Food
  • Vaccinations
  • Personal (entertainment, etc.)

Because of all of these factors, there is no "typical" total cost of a global health elective, but students have been known to spend between $1,500 and $6,000 CDN.

Third-party sources for funding are available. They include personal finances, the FoMD Global Health bursary, the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS), local business organizations (the Rotary), UofA International and local churches.

How will doing an international elective affect my chances in the CaRMS match?

There is no simple answer to this question.

International electives can positively impact the clinical and procedural competence of students. Once they return, they are likely to perform with more confidence during future clinical rotations. This may be critical as rotation preceptors/supervisors are often approached by students for reference letters for their residency application packages.

Participating in an international elective shows that a student is globally conscious, aware of international health care and disease and empathic to the global community. Though it cannot be predicted how a residency admission committee will interpret an international health elective, very few will view it negatively.

A possible disadvantage of participating in an international elective is that the focus may differ from that of your chosen field. There may be a need to maximize your specialty exposure to optimize your chance of selection for highly competitive fields. This situation is rare. In most cases, an international elective is either a positive addition or a neutral influence on the CaRMS match.

What about safety issues? What happens if I become sick or injured?

Some of the major concerns of international travelers:

  • What happens if I become ill or injured?
  • What happens if there is civil unrest?
  • What happens if I get into legal trouble?
  • What happens if I am robbed or mugged?
  • Where do I go if I need legal/financial/medical assistance?
  • What happens if I lose my passport or visa?

You are obligated to take the University of Alberta International's Pre-Departure Orientation either online or in person.  These questions will be addressed during this session.

What do I need to prepare before setting out for the elective?

Some of what a student requires is the following:

  • You must be culturally sensitive and humble.
  • You must match your expectations with the realities of your destination.
  • You must be prepared for the amount of work that is required to prepare for an international elective experience.
  • You must be prepared for the burdens (emotional, mental, physical) that you may face during the elective.

Taking the 12 hour Global Health Education and Advocacy (GHEA) elective will assist in developing these qualities prior to departure. 

When is the best time to take an international elective?

There are a few things to consider when deciding when you would like to take your elective, and don't wait too long:

  • When do you have time available in your schedule?
  • When are the elective hosts/supervisors able to provide supervision for you?
  • What is the minimum duration of the elective (often specified by the hosts)?
  • What is the maximum amount of time and funding that you have available?

During the first two years of undergraduate medical training at the University of Alberta, summer is the most convenient time to take an elective. Following the first year of medical school, you will have four months available. Following the second year, you will have three months. The third and fourth years of undergraduate medical training have 8 and 5 weeks, respectively, set aside for electives. Both years will also have an additional two weeks set aside as holiday time. You may use any/all of your elective and holiday time towards an international elective.

Where can I find out if there are any warnings about any particular countries?
Where can I find out what international electives are available?
A good starting place is by contacting the global health program at
Why should you consider doing an international elective?

There are many reasons to consider an international elective. Here are a few:

  • International electives allow students to learn respect for and appreciation of the medical problems challenges and solutions of other countries and regions.
  • Students who take time to learn first-hand how medicine is practiced outside of North America are more confident and competent upon return to their medical training. Students will find themselves learning tremendous amounts from their foreign colleagues and supervisors, despite the lack of health care facilities and equipment. Necessity, from lack of resources, fosters ingenuity and resourcefulness. Students learn to think creatively and use basic principles as the foundation for their diagnosis and treatment.
  • The creative and basic mindset is admired in the medical profession. Medical instructors in Canada try to incorporate it into curricula, but that is frustrated by the sense of security that comes from modern technology. Technology increases efficiency, but often fosters complacency in clinical examination. The absence of the most advanced technology available to students will challenge them to use all of their training.
  • Canadians enjoy a largely tertiary-care-centered health care system, an exception to the international health care standard. This is particularly evident in third-world countries. International electives allow students to take part in the delivery of health care within the primary health care standard. Approximately 20% of University of Alberta Medical School Graduates will go on to practice medicine overseas. Exposure to the reality of health care delivery will prove invaluable to those students. All graduates will treat patients from multiple cultures from around the world, and this type of experience will undoubtedly help them be better doctors.
  • Some reasons from the Global Health Education Consortium (GHEC) guidebook include:
    • International health often provides experience, perspective and insight which, like any profound experience of learning or growth, are primarily within one's self and not easily measured. Nevertheless, there are several compelling reasons to consider an international elective.
    • The range of illnesses and services in North America are fairly atypical of the world as a whole. An international elective can provide broader perspectives on health, illness and health care.
    • Clinical and community health skills may be sharpened through applying them to unfamiliar problems and settings.
    • New knowledge may be gained and disseminated through focused research. A student or resident may find upon returning home that familiar things are now also seen from a fresh and more complete perspective.
    • The host community may benefit from the student's or resident's elective (although this is not always the case).
    • Familiarization with geographic and travel medicine. Developing familiarity with medical and social conditions within specific regions has become increasingly important. A growing numbers of travelers visit countries that still harbor endemic diseases virtually unknown to North America. They often require preventive or curative attention.
    • Improve the quality of medical education for ethnic populations within the United States. Health care providers are increasingly faced with the challenge of diagnosing and treating global diseases in new immigrants, as well as dealing with acute and chronic illnesses in the context of cultural patterns unfamiliar to the provider. Many new immigrants have been traumatized by war, displacement into refugee camps, or torture. This presents unique psychosocial challenges not commonly seen in the domestic population.
    • Gain an appreciation of the need to promote global equity in health care. Equity in health care distribution demands that, as world citizens, health care providers from more prosperous countries consider responsibility to medically underserved populations, both in their own country and in those of developing nations.
    • Develop a global network of relationships with other health care providers and students. There is much that can be learned from ongoing exchanges of information, research and medical practice with other countries.
    • Develop a population-based perspective of health care. Grouping populations and communities into managed care panels is forcing North American practitioners to consider health status of populations rather than those of individuals. This population-based approach has been practiced for decades in countries such as Chile, Great Britain and Cuba. Much can be learned from those experiences.
    • Promote personal attitudinal changes. Those who participate in international electives often note permanent changes in their perspective, attitude and practice patterns. As economic issues increasingly distract medical practice in the US, attention to the needs of poor and underserved populations of both the US and the rest of the world may engender a greater sense of purpose and humanism in the medical profession.

Emergency Support

If students require emergency assistance they are to follow these steps:

  1. Contact the University [within 24 to 72 hours] to inform us of your status

    University Protective Services
    Phone: 780-492-5277
    Markus Vuorensola (Education Abroad Risk Management Coordinator)
    Phone: 780-492-6549

  2. Follow the safety advice from the local authorities
  3. Keep the 24 hour emergency service information with you at all times

    University of Alberta Protective Services, 24 hour emergency services
    Tel: +1 780-492-5050

    Global Affairs Canada
    Tel: +1 613-996-8885

  4. Contact your family and friends to let them know that you are safe.

Note: UAlberta policy states that you must check your UAlberta email at least once a week. This is very important while you're abroad-it's the primary way we'll keep in touch with you. You should also stay in contact with family or friends back home as much as possible.