Protecting the health of medical students on international electives in low-resource settings

Niall Johnston, Nichola Sandys, Rosemary Geoghegan, Diarmuid O'Donovan, Gerard Flaherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background
Increasingly, medical students from developed countries are undertaking international medical electives in developing countries. Medical students understand the many benefits of these electives, such as the opportunity to develop clinical skills, to gain insight into global health issues and to travel to interesting regions of the world. However, they may be much less aware of the risk to their health and wellbeing while abroad. Compounding this problem, medical students may not seek advice from travel medicine practitioners and often receive inadequate or no information from their medical school prior to departure.

Methods
The PubMed database was searched for relevant literature relating to the health of medical elective students. Combinations of the following key words were used as search terms: ‘international health elective’, ‘medical student’ and ‘health risks’. Articles were restricted to those published in English from 1997 through June 2017. A secondary review of the reference lists of these articles was performed. The grey literature was also searched for relevant material.

Results
This narrative literature review outlines the risks of clinical electives in resource-poor settings which include exposure to infectious illness, trauma, sexual health problems, excessive sun exposure, mental health issues and crime. Medical students may mitigate these health risks by being informed and well prepared for high-risk situations. The authors provide evidence-based travel advice which aims to improve pre-travel preparation and maximize student traveller safety. A safer and more enjoyable elective may be achieved if students follow road safety advice, take personal safety measures, demonstrate cultural awareness, attend to their psychological wellbeing and avoid risk-taking behaviours.

Conclusion
This article may benefit global health educators, international elective coordinators and travel medicine practitioners. For students, a comprehensive elective checklist, an inventory of health kit items and useful web-based educational resources are provided to help prepare for electives abroad.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Travel Medicine
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes

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