Global Health

Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1: What is a global health elective?
Question 2: How much will it cost me and what are my funding options?
Question 3: How will doing a global elective affect my chances in the CaRMS match?
Question 4: What about safety issues? What happens if I become sick or injured?
Question 5: What do I need to prepare before setting out for the elective?
Question 6: What happens if I'm called to do an advanced procedure for which I have not been trained?
Question 7: What medical supplies can/should I take?
Question 8: What should I expect to achieve during the course of the elective?
Question 9: When is the best time to do a global health elective?
Question 10: When should I contact a potential elective supervisor (ie. How far in advance)?
Question 11: Where can I find general information about the various countries/cities in which global health electives are offered?
Question 12: Where can I find out if there are any warnings about any particular countries?
Question 13: Where can I find out what global health electives are available?
Question 14: Why should you consider doing a global elective?



Question 1: What is a global health elective?

A global health elective offers undergraduates a chance to spend elective time working and learning in another 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.

There is a wealth of information about preparing for a medical elective and about many global health issues on the website of the Global Health Education Consortium (GHEC) just recently merged into the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH)

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Question 2: How much will it cost me and what are my funding options?

The major cost of any global health elective is the airplane ticket. If your funding is limited but you still wish to do a global health elective, select a location closer to Canada, like a country in Central or South America. This will help you save on airfare.

Additional expenses include:

  • Accommodations (most likely provided at a nominal cost)
  • Local travel (taxi, bus, ferries, etc.)
  • Food
  • 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), and local churches.

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Question 3: How will doing a global 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 a global health 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 a global health elective, very few will view it negatively.

A possible disadvantage of participating in a global health 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.

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Question 4: 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 speak to the Global Health supervisor (currently either Dr. Zakus or Dr. Allain) regarding some of these risk assessment issues. The supervisor will review with you the 'Setting up an Elective' form, which includes a checklist identifying potential problems. The supervisor will also discuss the steps to take if you find yourself in a situation such as those described above.

All global health elective students must take the Pre-departure training before going on their elective (Nov 17, 2012 and Mar 9, 2013). Some of these issues are further discussed and clarified there. The University of Alberta also has Risk Management Services.

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Question 5: What do I need to prepare before setting out for the elective?

The first thing that a global elective student requires is the proper attitude:

  • 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 a global health elective experience.
  • You must be prepared for the burdens (emotional, mental, physical) that you may face during the elective.

Fill out the 'Setting up an Elective' form, the 'Waiver of Liability' form and the ‘UME Elective' form. Once the forms are complete, you will meet with a Global Health faculty advisor for discussion. The forms must be signed by the Global Health Steering Committee prior to submission to the UGME office for final approval.

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Question 6:What happens if I'm called to do an advanced procedure for which I have not been trained?

Read the chapter on Liability and Ethical Issues in the Global Health Education Consortium's Guidebook.

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Qyestion 7: What medical supplies can/should I take?

Ask your electives contact, but discuss supplies availability with a U of A Global Health Electives supervisor first. Some things will not be available for students to take with them, and not everything available to students will be required.

Once you have spoken to an electives supervisor, you can discuss the possibilities with your elective contact. This way, you will have an agreement and understanding of what supplies and what quantity you will need.

You can also look at The Global Health Medical Education Consortium’s packing advice under the ‘Lessons Learned—Rotation Planning Advice’ section of the Guidebook.

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Question 8: What should I expect to achieve during the course of the elective?

What you achieve, within reason, depends on how much time you can spend abroad.

The duration of your travels should allow for an adjustment period. Give yourself time to adjust to the time change and different culture before you start your on-the-job experience.

There is a requirement of one month, minimum, of on-the-job elective time. This time should be spent in a rural location. The non-urban experience is important to fully understand the implications and importance of global health.

You should also try to reserve time to see and experience the country and its unique culture. This is a unique perspective will add to the overall experience.

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Question 9: When is the best time to do a global health 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.

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Question 10: When should I contact a potential elective supervisor (i.e. How far in advance)?

Some electives are difficult to set up for various reasons (difficulty contacting the supervisor, obtaining a visa, securing housing, etc.). Some electives fill very quickly. The Field Station Proram is highly recommended. If possible, you should attempt initial communication with your desired elective supervisor 6-12 months in advance.

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Question 11: Where can I find general information about the various countries/cities in which global health electives are offered?

There are several sites through which you can find general and tourist information regarding the countries in which international electives are available, and soon a binder compiled of previous year’s students’ reports and suggestions. Some useful links are listed below.

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Question 12: Where can I find out if there are any warnings about any particular countries?

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Question 13: Where can I find out what global health electives are available?

A good starting place is the Global Health Electives Database on this site.

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Question 14: Why should you consider doing a global health elective?

There are many reasons to consider a global health elective. Here are a few:

  • Global Health 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 laziness 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. Global health electives allow students to take part in the delivery of health care within the primary health care standard. Approximately twenty per cent 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 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 a global health 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.

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